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Want to see if this can work? Just visit an FE college

So let us assume we need to create a model for the new vision that is Tomlinson.

We need high-quality academic courses, and we need to improve the status of vocational programmes. Exams need not be age-related. Apprenticeships should be boosted. And we want a seamless education system from age 14 to adulthood.

The model already exists - it is called further education.

Much of what Mike Tomlinson wants has been tried and tested in this sector.

Nearly 800,000 16 to 18-year-olds study in colleges, compared with only 420,000 in schools. In colleges, 120,000 students are under 16. About 10 per cent of higher education is carried out in colleges. Many students get to university only through the medium of FE.

More than half of all vocational qualifications are awarded via colleges, to some 550,000 individuals - 10 times more than employers achieve.

Many colleges already run Way to Work initiatives, pioneer new methods of learning, are crucial in helping disaffected young people who have been failed by school, and have distinctive courses for those with special needs.

Centres of vocational excellence run successfully by colleges and training providers can build on the concept of specialist schools. Mike Tomlinson's proposals for 20 subject routes have already been criticised for their complexity. But the world of further education lives with complexity day by day, both in regard to its funding streams, and its vast array of qualifications.

So the structure is there. With Tomlinson there will be a much closer relationship between schools, colleges and training providers, with students moving freely between them.

But it will only come at a price. The Association of Colleges has attacked what it calls "secondary-modern funding" for colleges. It highlights the stark difference between what the Government provides for buildings for schools and for colleges, the latter receiving only a tenth of the budget of the former.

And there are long-standing pay differentials between FE and higher-paid school staff which the Government has pledged to remedy, although it has never said when this would take place.

FE Focus 3

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