Timely call for greater freedom

4th July 2008 at 01:00
You heard it from principals first - that colleges deserve more freedom to service their communities without government breathing down their necks

You heard it from principals first - that colleges deserve more freedom to service their communities without government breathing down their necks.

Of course, the cry of "They would say that, wouldn't they?" could always be heard when colleges have, in the past, made the case that they deserve more trust.

But now they have an ally in a high place - City amp; Guilds, the awarding body whose name is better known by the man on the Clapham omnibus than any agency of government.

This body is not devoid of vested interest in the liberalisation of college funding. After all, more flexibility means, among other things, more flexibility to use City amp; Guilds qualifications.

But its timing in speaking up for freedom in favour of targets catches the mood of the country. Colleges, like individuals, feel untrusted by the state. That is why City amp; Guilds has done well to promote this issue at a party political level.

In failing to trust colleges sufficiently - and accept that some will fail - there is a danger that even those that succeed will be wide of the mark when it comes to local employment markets.

Government should carefully reconsider the balance between centralist planning and responsiveness to the real communities that exist beyond Whitehall. It has invested in FE like no other government and does not deserve to lose the agenda to its opponents simply because it is too nervous to let colleges get on with the job.

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