The vision of a classless society, only ever achieved in Britain by the further education sector, was painted by David Melville, the chief executive of the Further Education Funding Council, at the Association of Colleges annual conference.
He said that examination of parents' social economic groups showed that FE was no discriminator of persons.
Further education was successful with students from every social economic group, he told the conference. In contrast, schools' levels of achievement fell dramatically with lower social economic groups. This illustrated the excellent record of and potential for FE.
But the key issue now was not concern about those who do participate - but those who do not. There needed to be "joined-up" policy-making and action, not just from age 14 but earlier.
The task would not be easy. "In the cases of some inner-city communities, the problems may seem intractable - there is layer upon layer of social and economic deprivation and isolation, combined with perceptions of civil disengagement," he said "Learning may seem a very distant aspiration and an abstract solution in the face of immediate material needs. In many cases we are definitely not dealing with enthusiastic potential learners. We may be dealing with those who have excluded themselves from electoral registers, welfare record systems or other methods by which we gain data on the population. "
He said there would be significant implications for FE in addressing those problems and it would require effort and resources in time and money.
"From the (funding) council's perspective, it will need to consider what it can do to help colleges develop their strategies. It will need to consider ways of 'bending' funding to ensure that resources are targeted at those students most in need of support."
He said this would augment other opportunities through the social services and the Home Office, and there may be "new territory" to be explored.