Will adult college cuts meet their Waterloo?

11th April 2008 at 01:00

One of Ela Piotrowska's memories of working at Ofsted is the smell that greets you when you arrive to carry out an inspection - the aroma of freshly painted classrooms. She had been with the Adult Learning Inspectorate until it was merged with Ofsted last year - a transition dwarfed in scale by her latest career move.

This time, the smell of paint was conspicuously absent as she arrived at Morley College, near Waterloo station in London, where Ms Piotrowska has taken on the job of principal. Her senses were instead being soothed by the sound of music performed by students taking part in the increasingly endangered activity of learning for leisure. In fact, post-19 study for personal enrichment, as opposed to what ministers refer to as "demand-led" skills training, is what Morley is famous for.

She is unfazed by the funding squeeze affecting the kind of education that Morley specialises in. "I would not have taken on the job if I did not think we were going to survive," she said. "My job is to carve out a place for this college in the 21st century.

"I'm delighted to join Morley. It has a rich history, a wonderful range of courses and a vibrant student community. I look forward to leading it through a period of challenges and opportunities in adult education."

Ms Piotrowska has taken over from Philip Meaden, who becomes principal of Leeds College of Music.

While determined to defend Morley's distinctive character, she said she was also sympathetic to the skills focus of modern FE policy.

Morley was a working people's college specialising in trade skills long before it started to build a non-vocational reputation in the 1950s. It has enjoyed special funding arrangements as a specialist adult college but, in the new climate, this means it will be granted a period of grace to adjust to the new narrower funding regime rather than receiving a full pardon.

If she succeeds in making the case for a broader approach to adult education funding, non-vocational courses could have a more secure future - and not just at Morley College.

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