Where's the new money?;FE Focus

1st May 1998 at 01:00
Ian Nash and Ngaio Crequer analyse Labour's contribution to FE after the party's first year in government.

The college employers' bill for Government expansion plans went to David Blunkett this week.

The Education and Employment Secretary had started his first year well - pumping pound;100 million of new money into the sector. This had more than compensated for the Tory decision to cut pound;83m from college budgets. But Mr Blunkett will have to come up with far more money if he wants colleges involved with the New Deal, the University for Industry and initiatives to expand post-16 student numbers by 500,000.

The Association of Colleges put the figures at pound;315m extra next year, rising to pound;715m in 2002 - not just for growth but to catch up. Student numbers grew by 22 per cent in five years while the money fell by 30 per cent. And, as the the Further Education Funding Council confirmed, one in four colleges has "acute financial difficulties".

Mr Blunkett started with all the right signals - the launch of a national advisory group on lifelong learning, chaired by Professor Bob Fryer, and general endorsement last June of Helena Kennedy's report on widening participation.

But it soon emerged that if FE wanted more than the pound;100m it would have to wait for the results of the comprehensive spending review, due to be released this summer.

The lifelong learning Green Paper, The Learning Age, triggered further consultations, also delaying the arrival of new money for further and adult education. Baroness Kennedy's plans to encourage minorities, women, ethnic groups and the unemployed into college will also have to wait for cash.

The last-minute decision in February to demote what was originally a White Paper on lifelong learning to a green one did not make David Blunkett popular in the sector. However, that was less a failure of policy than timing, and with hindsight matters little as it still signals a firm commitment (see Alan Tuckett, page 32).

And recent pronouncements from Chancellor Gordon Brown that colleges, along with schools, will have priority after the funding review restored confidence. Colleges can make a special plea for cash as there are more 16 to 24-year-olds in FE than in schools and universities put together.

Expectations of more cash increased following Labour's response to the Dearing inquiry into higher education last autumn. The Government said that sub-degree HE expansion (HNCs and HND) would happen in colleges, not universities. They will receive cash from HE fees and loans (to the chagrin of universities) to help pay for it.

But this alone will not solve FE's troubles. New planning forums bringing together schools, training and enterprise councils and colleges must have muscle to ensure that all non-higher education cash is shared equitably. Six out of 10 colleges have cash problems - apart from those in crisis. Disparities in funding, favouring schools and skewing the education markets, exacerbate this.

Up to 40,000 extra students are also expected through the New Deal, but on the cheap as the cash pledged is less than would come from Further Education Funding Council-funded programmes.

The consensus is that Labour has renewed the hope in further education. But much more cash, less bureaucracy and greater even-handedness among all the players is still desperately called for.

Colleges have lauded the aims of the New Deal programme for the young unemployed but are still cautious about predicting its ultimate success.

"It is too early to tell whether it has done the business," said John Brennan, head of FE development at the AOC. "Some of the issues which the New Deal is designed to address chime in with the sector's beliefs and priorities, to use education and training as a vehicle to change people's lives and make them employable.

"More problematic is that although many colleges are happy to engage in partnerships at a local level, the results of the bidding process have been variable. It is by no means the case that colleges have always won the education and training component. And only a small proportion of clients are going into these options."

The Government has just revealed figures for the first three months of the New Deal pathfinders. Nearly 18,000 young people had been invited to a gateway interview, with 1,456 referred to the full-time education and training option.

"Lots of people are going through the gateway but it will not be clear what the outcomes will be until some six months down the track," said Mr Brennan. "The whole programme will require a great deal of monitoring and scrutiny. Ministers have been very optimistic, with suggestions of around pound;100m coming into the sector, but it is a long way from obvious that that target will be hit."

He was also critical of the fact that levels of funding provided by the Employment Service were less than equivalent programmes funded by the FEFC.

Jules Preston, chief executive of Sunderland City Training and Enterprise Council, said the New Deal offered greater opportunities and extra resources but there were possible drawbacks.

She added: "We are running a recruitment training grant which has led to many people getting jobs. It is too early to say whether the New Deal will lead to a net gain. If our programme plummets because a New Deal scheme becomes a substitute then nobody is helped."

The Government had moved with "frightening" speed on New Deal, according to Anne Weinstock, chief executive of Rathbone CI, a private training provider. "I think it is refreshing that Labour is constantly in listening mode. But I fear that there will still be a tranche of young people who will need something more flexible than even New Deal."


* Paul Mackney, general secretary, NATFHE

Good is the vision of a learning society where everyone is encouraged to develop to their maximum potential, which is a massive step forward from the dreary image of sweated labour with which the last government believed Britain would hold its own in world markets.

Bad is the lack of money for the core services of post-school education which results in relentless redundancies, low pay, attacks on conditions of service and poor quality delivery.

The ugly is the introduction of pay-your-own-way university education with tuition fees which appear to contradict the welcoming message of widening participation.

* David Melville, chief executive, Further Education Funding Council

Labour's first year in office has been one in which the sector moved centre stage in the Government's vision of Britain. FE has had more public ministerial and indeed prime-ministerial mentions this year than any other.

A new approach to FE has been the hallmark of these past months. And this has already been backed by more than pound;100 million of new money. Resources available will always be a limit to our ambitions, but we do have the articulation of a new vision of lifelong learning.

Inspectors are seeing positive responses to Government initiatives in support of widening participation, inclusive learning and the New Deal. The Government's priority to raise quality and standards will help us measure improvement within the sector.

* John Field, professor of lifelong learning, University of Warwick

The high point was the lifelong learning green papers for England and Wales, after delays and widespread rumours that a White Paper was now a low-level discussion document. This sorry episode aside, we've seen a bumper harvest for lifelong learning.

The UK must now help those ill-served by schools and colleges in the past to reach their potential. Government must give a strong lead in a learning revolution. Imaginative and innovative proposals - the University for Industry or Individual Learning Accounts - will help if properly resourced. Nothing I see convinces me that the Government has got to grips with the task. More than six million adults still have basic literacy needs. Building an inclusive learning society is the true challenge.

* Sue Dutton, acting chief executive, AOC

One year on and further education is no longer content with playing second fiddle to schools and universities. We have exposed to government scrutiny our sector's funding weaknesses, caused by endemic short-termism and an aversion to investing in the future. The new Government's commitment to lifelong learning and the emergence of FE as the force to address social exclusion and economic prosperity give us something to celebrate.

Our expectations have been raised, FE is on the move. We look forward in the next year to a marked reorientation of education and training policy and funding, new emphasis on the majority of the workforce and those seeking to re-enter employment.

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