Vision of gold in a silk purse;Comment;Opinion;FE Focus

Anne Smith

THE post-16 education and training review gives the Government an opportunity to make some sense of the pig's ear that has for so long been the post-compulsory scene. What do we in the colleges want in the elegant silk purse that the Department for Education and Employment is going to stitch together?

First of all, we want a tertiary vision - and tertiary means everything beyond the age of 16. The distinction between 16-18 and post-19 students should be abandoned. It has only lasted so long because there are school sixth-forms, and that means that the cart is leading the horse. The vision must include school sixth-formers for the sake of coherence and clarity but they must not dictate what it is.

Such a universal and inclusive vision is unlikely to be realisable in one stage, but if we are ever to be free of crisis management at the highest level it must be a vision which is realised step by step. Just as the plan to widen participation is being phased, so should the master plan for post-16 education and training. There must be a careful framework which applies to all regions, with the flexibility needed to take care of regional variations and differing needs.

Until there is one national body there is too much opportunity for competition and empire-building, which wastes time and energy as well as money.

Support for the Further Education Funding Council to be that over-riding body may not be universal, but it is greater than the support for training and enterprise councils.

Rationalising the TECs and the FEFC would mean savings directly refocused into the delivery of education and training to those over the compulsory school age. Every city centre should open a one-stop shop for education and training where passers-by can drop in and seek information from those who have no particular provider's axe to grind and who can talk to people in real words and not in educational or training jargons.

There must also be a single post-16 quality assurance system, and this should be applied to all providers. Not only will it mean that like iscompared with like, and that over-audited providers are relieved, but also that the system is more comprehensible to the layman. In this context, the idea that there should be different qualifications systems for the full-time 16-18s and the mostly part-time adults would be incomprehensible. It makes no sense for the school-leaver to confuse what is available full-time with what is part-time.

It is desirable that performance tables record what colleges actually do, so that people can see them for what they are, and not as failed schools. Even more importantly, the qualification system should make it easier for students to move from one status to another as their circumstances change, taking with them what they have achieved, and adding the units which will make up a coherent package.

What it's all about is making things clear for students, and encouraging them to embark on a lifetime programme of learning, whether it is for an immediate end or to make them better equipped for the future. If the proposed changes aren't to achieve that end, the Government will have developed crossed eyes rather than having a vision.

Anne Smith is principal of John Ruskin College, Croydon

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Anne Smith

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