Waiting to move forward

Brian Lister is acting chief executive of the Scottish Further Education Unit and principal of Cumbernauld College

The Scottish Executive Review of Scotland's Colleges is establishing a long overdue and authoritative evidence base about our work, how we go about it and the possibilities for future work in the short and the long term.

The evidence has been collected, the analysis is well advanced and the synthesis has been postponed until new ministers are in place after the election. These ministers will have an opportunity to take their work forward, based on evidence as well as the political mix of ideology, manifestos and lobbying. In this important respect, they will be better off than their predecessors.

These ministers will know that:

* Scotland's colleges have a strong, committed workforce who are robust advocates of the work they do;

* there has been considerable capital spend;

* there are high levels of learners' satisfaction with their FE experiences;

* the many challenges addressed at local and individual level amount to a whole lot in terms of Scotland's economic and social well-being.

They will also have plenty of suggestions on how to move forward. From that knowledge, and provided they have the wisdom to distinguish between distraction and significance, they might be able to conclude that Scotland's colleges provide outstanding public value and are at the forefront of public sector reform.

But we also know that they exist in a complex fabric woven by threads of local and national policies, diverse funding mechanisms, demanding governance requirements, high expectations of quality and complex learner needs. And we know that these threads are fragile.

The landmark publication Forward Together signals the emergence of FE as a progressive public service, one which is looking forward to the future with a confidence and determination to shape that future. It is a sector no longer dominated by fixing things or picking up daunting challenges.

Scotland's colleges have reached a good place and the journey continues.

We know that the key fuel which drives us is the professional development of staff at all levels. It is not simply our capacity to provide these opportunities; it is our ability to use these opportunities for our learning as the significant determinant in retaining a dynamism to respond to change. Any new minister should expect nothing less.

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