We should have done this years ago

28th February 2003 at 00:00
Further and higher education minister Margaret Hodge explains why she thinks fundamental reform is long overdue

I want to tackle the elitism that bedevils the most prestigious universities and I want every higher education institution and college to work harder to hunt for talent.

We have scope in the ideas of the HE White Paper to nurture more talent. By June, I want the beginnings of foundation degrees in FE to be well under way: that is where we have said the HE expansion comes. With this, of course, there are the structural and funding reforms that colleges must turn their attentions to. The strategies in Success for All and the HE White Paper amount to a huge investment and reform agenda for both FE and HE. Things are happening fast.

Also by June, colleges will be well on their way to deciding three-year budgets and with them the performance targets against which they will get extra cash. The national skills strategy and the review of adult learning will also be published.

With the college "delivery contracts" signed, we will have the framework within which colleges and learning providers can work better with the employers and community. We will launch the first-ever student surveys for real information about the quality of learning and teaching.

At the same time, the FE Leadership College will be ready with its first courses for the September intake. Improvement in management, leadership and teaching quality are central to all our plans.

We should have done this years ago, there is no doubt about that. Investing in training and supporting good teachers for the future is something that has been a long time coming.

The Standards Unit at the DfES will have done much work by the autumn, identifying good teaching and learning models for the first main curriculum areas. It will also be working out processes for training front-line teachers.

How do we ensure that this focuses on what communities need? By April, we will have Strategic Area Reviews - a vital layer in our work because that will enable us to identify the needs of every stakeholder and ensure that collaboration replaces wasteful and overlapping competition.

It will help identify, too, the skills gaps in each local economy. We are not providing a national blueprint: we want local solutions to emerge. But that will require clear evidence that national standards are being maintained.

For example, if we are expanding HE in FE, we have to be assured that we are developing quality. The new body, Foundation Degree Forward, will ensure that. Colleges providing foundation degrees will be under the auspices of a university.

When we first looked at expansion of HE, one of the options under consideration was to concentrate it in the mixed economy (FHE) colleges.

The conclusion we came to was that the quality was so variable that it would be the wrong way forward. What is informing expansion is not just that it is meeting the needs of colleges, but sustaining quality which we demand.

As distinctions within 14-19 and between FE and HE blur, concentrate on what you do best, and trust each other to do the best in co-operation."

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