Tory says minister's analysis is garbage

MINISTERS who blame further education for the failings of post-16 education are out of touch with reality, according to shadow education secretary Damian Green.

"On planet Hodge," he told principals, "the picture is clear. The FE sector is not pulling its weight and is letting down its students. Mrs Hodge's analysis is garbage."

His comments to the summer conference of the Association of Colleges and the Sixth Form Colleges Employers Forum were aimed at Margaret Hodge's criticisms of the "variation in performance", which she has used to call into question the existence of general FE colleges.

Ministers say that in some areas such a college may not be the best option as a main provider. The minister's critical assessment is not borne out by the Office for Standard in Education, which described 93 per cent of college provision as at least satisfactory.

Mr Green blamed the Government for trying to keep too much control at the centre, and stifling innovation in colleges. He argued that innovation, by definition, is something which happens on the ground.

"The desire to control from the centre is ultimately self-deceiving. The Government can't work with you to raise standards and improve skills because such a relationship is dependent on mutual trust.

"Unfortunately for the FE sector and the students, it is clear that the Government is unable to give that commitment to those it expects to carry out its bidding."

He said the number of NVQs and GNVQs awarded had fallen under Labour. Among 14 to 18-year-olds, level 2 awards in vocational subjects dropped from 38 per cent to 23 per cent last year, and for level 3 from 28 to 20 per cent.

The Government, he said, was being too confrontational in its approach and failing to give colleges the freedom to use their own expertise.

"It means closure for those colleges who fail to bend to the Government's will," he said.

He listed five "serious failures" of the Government: excessive centralisation and deregulation; tying funding too closely to its own initiatives; "arbitrary" higher education qualification targets; embarking on a "campaign of denigration"; and the individual learning accounts "fiasco".

The call for a more trusting relationship between the Department for Education and Skills and the colleges was warmly welcomed by David Gibson, AOC chief executive, but he said similar overtures had also been made by ministers.

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you