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Trust the FE professionals

In the first of a series of articles Ian Nash looks at the response so far to the Charlotte Group which wants a better deal from ministers

Government policies are shaped more by the latest anxieties felt by politicians than the longer-term needs of students and trainees.

This is the clear message from people responding to a call for evidence from eight national organisations for learning and skills which have come together to forge a new concord with government.

A draft concord, published in FE Focus (June 3) by the coalition, known as the Charlotte Group, prepared the ground for an open debate and hoped-for agreement that politicians and professionals could sign up to. Reaction to the article from lecturers, managers, support staff in colleges and learning providers was swift. It focuses on five key issues: First, they want politicians and policy-makers to demonstrate that they trust professionals to do the job and maintain the values the concord espouses.

The Government and Learning and Skills Council appear to have done immeasurable damage by breaking promises to close the funding gap with schools and carry through reforms and cuts to red tape promised three years ago in its "Trust in FE" initiative.

Second, respondents want minimum intervention from government and its agents who should "leave those with the ideas, creativity and professionalism to get on with the job".

Third, there is a call for much greater clarity over where the money goes and who pays for what. There is a deep suspicion that ministers are boasting of record funding increases while siphoning off cash from traditional FE activities for "flavours of the moment" such as academies.

Fourth, managers in particular stress that there needs to be a more realistic timescale for change. One principal complains that "there is no time to measure the success of a scheme before the Government declares 'all change' on the policy front".

Fifth, a common strand running through replies was concern over the extent to which "too much cash is still retained centrally" when it should be "going to the front line".

Concern over transparency when it comes to who should pay for what is expressed in a statement from the Association of Colleges, a member of the Charlotte Group (see below for list of members). The association calls for "a complete change of attitude on the part of employers" who must contribute more to support young learners.

The sector skills council, Lifelong Learning UK, also says that a more flexible approach to teacher and lecturer training is needed. This would create better career ladders and make it easier for people to switch job roles.

The central message throughout the responses to the group is that people are willing to be much more flexible to meet changing demands, but that politicians need to have more trust in the sector.

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