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Sector News, 09 June - 13 June 2008

Who’s making wishes come true? Education Guardian, 10 June 2008.

At least 15 academies are receiving donations, up to £2m, from anonymous donors. Whilst it is certain that some donors want little more than the satisfaction of helping the less fortunate, there remains the fear that others may wish to influence the way academies are run.  Christine Blower, the acting general secretary of the NUT, wants the donors to be named (publicly) to safeguard the public interest.

FE Colleges are key for social and economic regeneration. Education Guardian, 10 June 2008.

Comment by John Denham (secretary of state for innovation, universities and skills).

John Denham challenges David Willet’s claim that FE has no clear role or vision.  John Denham considers FE to be leaders in the community, not just in education but, as institutions that can drive economic development and regeneration.

The road less travelled.  Education Guardian, 10 June 2008.

Peter Mitchell, Edge’s senior education adviser, believes that there is a change in attitude towards vocational qualifications.  Employers value vocational qualifications, sometimes over a degree.  The account is given of an economics graduate who having failed to secure the work she hoped for discovered the vocational route to accountancy.

Nb Edge is the educational foundation promoting practical and vocational learning.

Skills put to the test. Education Guardian, 10 June 2008.

“Questions are being asked about whether Train to Gain is good value for taxpayers’ money”.

It appears that the majority of the funding granted so far to Train to Gain has been used to measure what people can do already and give them qualifications for it.  Train to Gain is supposed to be about raising industry’s game.  Whilst it is reassuring to concentrate on what people can do, the programme should also focus on what we cannot do and find ways of rectifying this.

This week the Guardian has a major supplement "College report" (10 June 2008) published as alead up to the second Guardian Further Education and Skills Summit next week.  Below are the articles published in the supplement.

Is change becoming a dirty word? 

For decades colleges have had to jump to the constantly changing ideas of ministers, often through an ever changing world of quangos.   Recently the Centre for Excellence in Leadership and the Quality Improvement Agency have been told that they are to merge into one agency, despite an existence of four and two years only.  There have been constant changes in qualifications and the targeting of funds.  FE it seems are growing restless at this pace of change which does not appear to affect any other part of the government’s education programme. 

Skills councils hang on.  

The skills councils, created to give employers greater control of the skill agenda, are under threat.  Employers, generally, feel that the councils’ approach is correct.

Tune in or drop out? 

Despite the government pouring money into Train to Gain, adult learners are dropping out in increasingly large numbers.  There is mounting concern that redirecting funding from the more traditional adult learning to a single skills campaign is having a marked effect on the number of adults now taking part in education programmes.

How to provide the training our workforce needs

According to research by the CBI and the Warwick Institute of Employment research, by 2012 75 per cent of all jobs will need a skills equivalent of level 3.  The UK Commission for Employment and Skills will be helping to simplify the skills system for employers and proposing constructive areas for improvement.

A fight for survival in new funding era.  

By 20102 to learning Skills Councils will have disappeared and colleges will have to deal with local authorities (once again) and a paymaster for pre-19 education. 

Should 16-19 learners be kept in schools and out of colleges

Yes, says Ian MacNaughton Principal of the Sixth Form college, Colchester citing pastoral care, the involvement of parents and an enriched experience for students.

No, says Sally Dicketts, Principal, Oxford and Cherwell Valley college, citing that losing 16-19 year olds would reduce FE’s breadth and high quality vocational education.

Degrees of separation.  

Around 11% of students studying for higher qualifications do so in a FE college.

Opening doors with diplomas.  

“The prospect of a college education is looking likelier for thousands of 14-19 year-olds, thank to the introduction of the Diploma this September”.

Is the further education sector too responsive for its own good? 


The unparalleled flexibility of the FE sector could be working against it according to Mick Fletcher and educational consultant.  For example, the Train to Gain experience means that FE cannot afford to do much teaching, looking for assessors at the expense of teaching to the detriment of a college’s staffing profile.

A step towards independence.  

Removing the Quality Improvement Agency and the Centre for Excellence in Leadership is not just the removal of two quangos but, their replacement by a body which will be run by the FE sector.  This is another step on the road to self regulation.  However, there are doubts as to how far self regulation will be permitted to go. 

Alison Birkinshaw, Principal of York college, argues (in Clarion call for self-regulation) that without a clear vision for the future this unique opportunity for FE will face difficulties.

Lecturers face lean times. 

With tighter controls on funding and an ever narrowing curriculum there is concern that FE staff will have larger workloads and less money.

Investment in management pays off.  

The Principal of the College of North East London has spent £0.5m on leadership training for his staff.  He is expecting that the visit from Ofsted will award his college top grades.  this will be an amazing turnaround for the college whose last Ofsted visit concluded that college leadership was unsatisfactory.  He cannot understand why, with success like this, that the organisation responsible for management courses (Centre for Excellence in Leadership) is being scrapped.

ELQ cuts prompt Church to rejig theology training.  THE, 12 June 2008.

The Government’s decision to cut funding for students pursuing qualifications at an equivalent or lower level than they already hold has forced the Church of England to re-consider training for its ministers.  Many ministers already hold qualifications at degree level.

News column.  THE, 12 June 2008.

Imperial College London has plans to introduce its own entrance examination.  The College blames A-level grade inflation, stating that it cannot differentiate between bright and average students.  (Story originally in The Daily Telegraph, 4 June).

University drop out has exercised many universities this week, after the publication of the annual university performance indicators.  The Daily Mail’s political commentator remarks that the drive to boost higher education uptake has drawn in many who are not suitable to academic study.

Offa chief warns against meddling in admissions.  THE, 12 June 2008.

John Denham, the Universities Secretary, has said he wants all universities to publish their admissions policies in an effort to make their admissions process more transparent.  However, Sir Martin Harris, head of Offa (Office for Fair Access), has warned against making admissions policies part of a statutory agreement.

Experience is everything.  THE, 12 June 2008.

Paul Ramsden chief exec. of the Higher Education Academy, responds to a THE article published on 29 May).

He makes the point that the THE is only partly right in describing the academies role as supporting and enhancing university teaching.  In addition the academy attempts to improve teaching and the student experience and add value by acting as a network of networks.


Vaulting ambition.  THE, 12 June 2008.

A major article exploring the benefits of university involvement in the city academies.  University sponsorship of academies is different to business sponsorship in that the university is in kind rather than cash.  Amongst the university lauding the relationships are Brunel and Liverpool.

It’s all pants.  THE, 12 June 2008.

A little “tongue in cheek” but Tara Brabazon makes the point that lowering benchmarks guarantees mediocre results.

The bigger, the better for Ofsted grades. TES, FE Focus, 13 June 2008.

“A study commissioned by the CfBT Education Trust says that a college with a budget of £35 million is likely to have half a grade advantage in the four-point Ofsted inspection system over one with a budget of £5m.”  This contradicts John Denham’s conclusion that “There is no evidence that larger colleges provide a more effective education.”