With beneficiaries ranging from the battle-weary street fighters of Iraq to the new pool of fresh-faced `Madchester' musical talent, colleges have worked their magic for another year. Steve Hook looks back over 2007.
Colleges were doing their bit to rebuild Iraq as British further education began the task of tempting militia groups into the less gun-toting ethos of lifelong learning. FE Focus revealed that 57 fighters had signed up on courses - including welding and electrical installation - in war-torn Najaf, south of Baghdad, the Iraqi capital.
With franchising and the ill-fated individual learning accounts, further education has seen more than its fair share of scams. The jailing of former lecturer Stuart Spacey served as a reminder to everyone that post- 16 education and the "rigours" of the market don't always mix well. He was jailed for 18 months for embezzling more than pound;500,000 through a labyrinth of training companies associated with Barnsley College where he worked.
- The sinister-sounding "Information Authority" became the latest in the long-list of quangos in the FE world - with the aim of reducing the red tape involved in data-collection from colleges, with a salary bill of pound;500,000. Described by one principal as a "committee of quangoes" and Tory FE spokesman John Hayes as a "wobbly crutch", the authority has enjoyed relative obscurity since its creation.
A mum's army was being called for by Chris Humphries, director general of City and Guilds, the vocational awarding body. He said the wasted talents of women who are unable to get back into work after having children should be galvanised for the benefit of the economy by training them for jobs.
"We have to bring a completely different group of people into the workforce who weren't there before," he said.
- Pembrokeshire College said it would provide students with mobile phones so lecturers can keep in touch - even texting them to remind them about lessons.
The cost of examination fees finally overtook the amount colleges spend on food, computer equipment or building maintenance. Exam boards - most of which are non profit-making - claimed the increase of 36 per cent over three years was accounted for by investment improving their services.
- The Government was warned it should listen to teenagers' views about raising the compulsory age for leaving education and training to 18.
In fact, teenagers were consulted in a poll which showed seven in 10 opposed the plans. By the end of the year, ministers had taken the decision to go ahead.
More cash was promised by Bill Rammell, the further and higher education minister, for teaching people over 16 who have disabilities. The resources debate was put in focus by the case of Aisha Booth, a 27-year-old woman with Down's syndrome, described as having a mental age of 4. She was told she would have to be assessed for employment training. The following month a plan to create a new "entitlement to learning" for people with disabilities was announced.
Sam Lounds became the latest success story from Jamie Oliver's Fifteen restaurant in Cornwall. Having got off to an inauspicious start in life - serving time in prison for drug dealing - he became one of the TV chef's trainees. He now has work lined up in restaurants from London to Italy - with porridge firmly off the menu.
- A new grant was announced to help over-19s from poorer backgrounds to study. Mark Haysom, chief executive of the Learning and Skills Council, said the scheme was aimed at making studying easier to afford among adults who reported financial barriers had put them off returning to the classroom.
A new advertising campaign for skills training was set to take to the screens - and promised to be even bigger than the Gremlins adverts. The slogan "Our future: It's in our hands" was devised by Leo Burnett, the agency responsible for the "I'm lovin' it" McDonald's campaign.
- Colleges were told they would be given the power to act as their own awarding bodies, with a new set of home-made qualifications which would be overseen by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.
The Germans' reputation for training took a knock from Ofsted when it said BMW's Swindon factory, which makes the Mini, was providing sub-standard tuition to apprentices. BMW, which has a reputation for building "the ultimate driving machine", said it regretted the finding and promised to work with Ofsted to make things better. On the positive side, the company scored well for equal opportunities.
- If there really is such a thing as a poor accountant, the chances are he or she went to university. A study found those who start their career by training as accounting technicians in FE will earn pound;70,000 more by the time their university-education peers enter the workplace. This includes the pound;30,000 in student debt which, according to the National Union of Students, the average graduate accumulates.
Peter Hook, formerly bass guitarist with Joy Division and New Order, and fellow "Madchester" rock legend Mani, of Primal Scream and formerly of Stone Roses, became the latest people to teach their trade in further education. The pair became actively involved in a new music training centre opened by Trafford College in Manchester.
Asked whether rock musicians need FE, Hooky was in no doubt. "What comes naturally is the music," he said, "but then you have to deal with other things, like being able to tell whether your management are rip-off shysters."
The Association of Colleges drew a blank in its search for a new chief executive following the retirement of John Brennan. The annual conference was held the following month without his replacement being announced.
- 2007 saw the new 157 Group of big colleges take an increasingly high profile but the AoC ended the year confident that it would enjoy a new lease of life after a review of its services to member colleges.
- Blind Iranian-born author Gopher Kordi spoke up for adult education after it helped her to rebuild her life. She told her story as part of an FE Focus campaign supporting a series of conferences on adult education, which has lost more than 1 million students as a result of changes in the way colleges are funded. John Denham, the education secretary, promised a new approach to adult education funding.
Alison Birkenshaw, principal of Nelson and Colne College in Lancashire, became the latest name to be associated with FE's quest to improve its standing. She was announced chair of the FE reputation steering group. She told FE Focus: "What we want to get across is that FE colleges change people's lives and make a real impact."
- Truro College became the latest to sign up to a project to create soft skills courses in association with Deloitte, the accountancy firm. It is one of nine UK colleges that will train lecturers to teach the course to students - in an effort to make them more employable.
An independent survey revealed that morale in colleges is measurably improving - with the number of staff reporting that they are happy in their jobs now almost equal to those who are not. RCU, which carried out the survey, said 32.3 per cent described morale as "high" and 36.8 per cent said it was "low". If ministers could act on the pay gap between lecturers and school teachers, it could be a very happy new year indeed.
Meanwhile, Happy Christmas.