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What they really, really want

Steve Hook and Ngaio Crequer talk to the key players in FE and ask them what they would like to see in the new year

David Gibson, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: "We will be very busy for the first few months looking at how we can best use the new money announced by Charles Clarke. We need a change in the funding mechanism. That does not mean 450 different funding methods, one for each college. But what we do need is more trust and less auditing."

Susan Pember, director of the Adult Basic Skills Strategy Unit, said this was a good time of year to take stock of what has been achieved and what still needs to be done.

"Since we launched Skills for Life, the national strategy for improving adult literacy and numeracy skills, nearly a quarter of a million people have demonstrated their improved skills by achieving a national award, and more than one million basic skills courses were started by learners keen to 'get on'.

"This is good progress towards our target of helping 750,000 adults by 2004, and gives us confidence that we can achieve our new target of 1.5 million by 2007.

The Learning and Skills Council has already shown that it is determined to succeed, and a great deal of thanks are due to the teachers who are helping so many people to improve their skills.

"The new year will see the return of The Gremlins to television screens - by working together we can help many more people to get rid of them."

Anne Weinstock, chief executive of Connexions, said: "Part of what Connexions is about is making young people feel good about themselves. It does not matter whether you are talking about the inner cities or not. Happy people tend to make good learners. So I suppose what I want for the new year, as Connexions becomes available in every part of the country, is to to make sure all young people have a reason to feel good about themselves and have access to the help they need wherever they are."

David Hunter, chief executive of Fento, the further education national training organisation, said: "My wish for the new year is the creation of a post-16 sector skills council which would see an alliance of higher education, further education and adult and community learning."

Peter Pendle, general secretary of the Association for College Management, said: "I hope in the new year we can sort out the pay agenda. I hope we can look at how we are going to use the extra money announced by Charles Clarke and go for growth.

"I would also like to see the growth in membership of the ACM continue. Over the last year, there has been a more than 10 per cent increase, with membership reaching almost 4,000 people including half the principals in general FE colleges."

Paul Mackney, general secretary of the lecturers' union Natfhe, said:

"Natfhe would like The TES, and its sister papers The THES, the News of the World and the Sun - in fact the entire Murdoch press empire internationally - to devote as much attention to the campaigns for lecturers to get pay justice and students to receive adequate financial support as they have given to Cheriegate."

Chris Hughes, chief executive of the Learning and Skills Development Agency, said it had been a good year for the spending settlement.

"There are three things on our agenda. We want to see a strong role for FE in the higher education strategy, with increased emphasis on Foundation Degrees.

"We get the 14-19 proposals in the new year. The biggest area of concern is transition at 16. There are enormous issues around the guidance and advice given to young people, who gives it and its objectivity.

"We have not sorted out vocational qualifications. Until we do the national skills strategy will definitely not work.

I would like to move to develop a process by which colleges and employers come together to design a local, customised qualification."

Bryan Sanderson, chairman of the LSC, said his organisation was not perfect but was generally professional and competent.

Importantly, this was being done with a near 50 per cent improvement in productivity for administration costs when compared with its predecessors.

"More efficiency gains will come as we upskill the organisation - other public-sector bodies please note. We have local plans and core targets in place after consultation with our partners.

"What does it mean for our shareholders? First and foremost our customers, the learners whom we all are in business to help, will be top of our list of concerns.

We will carry out a professional survey of their views three times a year. The first results are encouraging, and most of them seem to be satisfied with their education.

"Second, the FE colleges, sixth-form and work-based learning providers can be assured that we share their goals and concerns. They can take heart from the survey outcome. Most deserve congratulations, not brickbats. As long as they deliver quality, inclusivity and value for money, the LSC will be their biggest supporter.

"The best of business also does a great deal of training, much of it unsung. We need to persuade business, particularly small or medium-sized businesses, to put more structure into their programmes.

"In particular, one of our top priorities in 2003 will be to lead a national focus on the skills agenda.

We have already made a start with pilot schemes, and the higher profile given by recent Treasury backing is very welcome.

"Finally, the media (including The TES) are also part of the agenda. More emphasis on the positive, please. We have much to be proud of and self-confidence is badly needed in education.

"A good measurement of this would be a couple of positive articles from your educational Eeyore Ngaio Crequer instead of the usual sour and shrewish pieces.

And, incidentally, I would like Sunderland to win at least the next three matches. After all, it is the season for goodwill and much needed miracles."

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