There is life after Roger

David Gibson has the task of healing wounds at the AOC after the downfall of his predecessor. Simon Midgley talked to him

David Gibson, the newly-appointed chief executive of the Association of Colleges, believes passionately in the importance of further education as the key to giving people a second chance at learning and training.

After a career mainly working in community, adult and further education, the principal of City College Manchester is looking forward to leading the association from February.

In his first interview since accepting the job previously filled by the disgraced Roger Ward, he said: "Colleges are by far the leaders in giving people second-chance opportunities. I think we are at the forefront of delivering lifelong learning and we are critical in re-skilling during people's working lives.

"These are essentials for our success as a nation but they also include some very important social inclusiveness messages. We can also contribute in a major way to a fair and just society."

Born in Hexham, Northumberland, 58-year-old Mr Gibson comes from northern working-class stock. One grandfather was a plasterer, the other trained greyhounds before building up a catering business. His father was a bank clerk, and his mother brought up the three children.

During the Second World War the family moved to Durham and he went to technical school before training to be a teacher at St John's College of Education in York. After training to teach English, biology and PE, he taught for five or six years in inner-city comprehensives in Leeds and York. In 1965 he was appointed manager of the youth service in Castleford and Pontefract in Yorkshire.

Five years later he became national director of the City Challenge programme run by the Outward Bound Trust. This offered young people the chance to take part in three-week residential courses. During such spells they would undertake unpaid work in inner-city hospitals, social services and play centres, discussing any emotional, social and political issues which arose during the day with tutors in the evenings.

He says the social issues which arose from such work challenged their views of social justice, human rights and basic dignity.

In 1976 he became an area community officer for Essex County Council managing adult education centres, the youth service and some FE provision in the outer London estates in Ockenden through Thurrock and Tilbury to Basildon New Town.

Four years later he became principal of Manchester's City College of Community Education which offered vocational education and training as well as adult education for the whole of inner-city Manchester. It ceased to exist in 1990.

Since 1989 Mr Gibson has been principal of City College Manchester, a large inner-city FE college with a significant proportion - 45 per cent - of basic education provision, which includes a lot of prison education work. The college also has 420 HE students.

He has continued to update his professional skills, acquiring a University of London diploma in adult education and an MSc in race and ethnic relations.

He is a self-confessed workaholic. "I would not say that I have no hobbies but I do enjoy working. It's more than just a job." He is married with three children.

David Gibson has a clear sense of the key issues facing the sector. He thinks the new regional development agencies will play a considerable role in helping to plan post-16 educational and training provision. "We ought to be vociferously arguing for FE to be represented on them as a matter of right, " he said. "In some cases we are already a little late. We ought to be there arguing for the importance of the centrality of FE."

He wants to ensure that the sector speaks with one voice while respecting individual contributions made by sixth-form, tertiary , general FE , agricultural, art and design and specialist colleges.

"A lot of the sector's attraction and its strengths derive from its diversity but we have not been good at having a single voice to represent it," he said. "Now we have a Government which is determined to increase skill levels in the country and develop the current and future workforce, the FE sector should be central to this.

"We really ought to be arguing very strongly that the sector can only take so many stringent budget cuts. We are told by the Government that money will be available and we need to work with the Government to ensure that all parts of the sector receive fewer efficiency cuts year on year and more funding in real terms."

He said he was sorry that after a lot of work by the AOC and NATFHE negotiators, that the union's membership had not felt able to accept the latest proposal for revised national terms and conditions of service for lecturers.

"I do not think it is in anybody's interests for us to continue to have stress and strife within the sector," he said. "I would certainly want to spend considerable time trying to see if there is a way forward. However, this has to be within a context that what colleges can do financially has been seriously reduced since 1993."

He believes it is crucial for students to have adequate financial support."I would be disappointed if the amount of money made available to student finance in FE is not vastly more than it was in real terms in 199293," he said. In that year, when most local authorities made discretionary grants available to students, it was Pounds 187 million. Now there are far fewer such awards, the sector has 21 per cent more students and there have been five years of inflation. Just to be the same as in 199293 would, he added,require more than Pounds 300m a year.

For the future he said: "There are far more 16 to 19-year-olds in FE than there are in sixth forms in schools and there are far more adult students in FE than there are in HE. We are a more effective, efficient, bigger and greater sector than is commonly understood or acknowledged and we have to make that clear so people appreciate the vital importance that FE plays in delivering the Government's targets and aspirations."

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