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Work together to change lives;FE Focus

In the five years since incorporation further education has strived to set out a vision of an education and training system which meets the nation's needs. The sector has long advocated the creation of a coherent pattern of post-compulsory education accessible to all individuals throughout their lives.

Persistence in promoting this message is finally bearing fruit with the new Government's educational priorities. Further education has begun its move to centre stage through debate stimulated by the Kennedy, Dearing and Fryer reports. Much thought has gone into education and training and their role in economic and social life of Britain, culminating in the publication of the Government's Green Paper, The Learning Age.

The sector has contributed greatly to the ideas in these publications. It is rewarding to see the vision we have held for five years taken up with vigour by other education sectors and government.

The Green Paper vision is about more than simply skilling individuals for jobs. It is about improving human capital - general employability and the ability to respond flexibly to economic change. However, it is also about creating the "social capital" which binds communities through shared values. It is about encouraging people to contribute effectively to society.

How should further education respond to the Government's vision? Our move centre stage brings with it responsibilities.

The Government invites the electorate to judge it substantially on its education pledges. It will therefore take a close interest in the results of its policies and will look increasingly to colleges to help it achieve these goals.

Ministers have already shown their enthusiasm for target-setting as a way of encouraging the drive to raise education and training levels. Colleges are uniquely placed to deliver qualifications on the scale necessary to achieve the new national targets and to provide for a significant share of the 500,000 new students who will enter the system shortly.

The sector must also capitalise upon its pivotal position in the lifelong learning continuum. It is both able to bring into learning those who might not otherwise have considered it and to deliver a diverse range of advanced learning opportunities. This position is a powerful one and colleges must also strive to maintain a diverse, but coherent portfolio of qualifications.

These are not new directions for FE; what is new is the emphasis that the Government now places upon these activities in achieving its objectives. However, it is becoming clear that colleges will need to find new ways of responding to the needs of both learners and employers to fulfil their part in the learning revolution.

The increase in student numbers will demand new pedagogical styles, such as computer-based learning and on-line tutorials and more imaginative delivery locations such as community centres, shopping malls or workplaces. The emergence of a wider range of educational and support needs, as the student body becomes increasingly heterogenous, will need a more comprehensive approach to initial student assessment and ongoing learner support.

In order to optimise their capacity to be responsive, institutions will also need to develop new partnerships both within localities and across sectors. A wide-ranging effective partnership between colleges, employers, training and enterprise councils, local authorities and higher education institutions will be necessary to bring about greater coherence and more strategic approach to post-16 provision.

It is fair to say that we have achieved much in five years. But it is important that we continue to look forward and ensure that we are positioned to rise to the challenges of the new vision. We know that FE can change lives and realise aspirations. We now need to secure the support and partnerships that will bring about the learning revolution.

David Melville is chief executive of the Further Education Funding Council

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