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Colleges reject government criticism of FE sector as “deceptive”


The Association of Colleges (which represents 99 per cent of all further education and sixth form colleges in England, Wales and Northern Ireland) has responded to the Government's comments on uneven college quality, describing them as "deceptive and totally missing the point".

David Gibson, Chief Executive of AoC, issued this statement: "Colleges have struggled to offer an excellent service to their 4 million learners through nearly a decade of year on year funding cuts. As the Government well knows, despite some recent funding improvements, colleges are currently operating on core funding which is 10% lower than in 1996. Colleges teaching a standard three A Level package receive £1000 less per student than the school sixth form up the road. Seventy of our colleges are categorised by our funding Council as financially weak - that is, they are operating at a loss. College Principals have to make the choice between paying their staff a basic pay rise or cutting services to students or making other staff redundant."

"Against this background, the 85% retention rate and 77% achievement rate of colleges, reported by the National Audit Office, represents great success for many poor and disadvantaged learners. Unlike schools sixth forms and universities, we take all comers, there are no barriers. This is a magnificent achievement by colleges in the face of blank indifference and even ignorance by successive Governments. We all know what is needed. Money affects quality, it affects teacher morale, it affects student achievement. This argument has been recognised for schools. Government should not be fiddling around while this wonderful service burns. It should be celebrating its remarkable achievements for many of the poorest people in this country and helping us do even more. And it should be addressing our bid for £2.5bm in the current Spending Review to set this situation right."

The AoC has offered these statistics to back up its argument:
The National Audit Office report, 'Improving Student Performance' (March 2001) showed that further education colleges had an average 85% student retention rate between 1994 and 1999. It also showed that the achievement rate in 1999 was at 77% and 'continuing to rise'. The rates were understandably significantly worse for colleges taking on the poorest and most disadvantaged students. Only ten colleges had an achievement rate of 50% or less in the year 1998-99. Colleges' achievement rates are depressed by two factors. First, they take on all comers - and qualifications on entry are known to be the best indicators of achievement at exit. Second, under LSC regulations, a student leaving a college to take up a job before taking their exam is counted as a failure, even though the value added by the college is likely to have been highly significant in enabling the student to find work – for many adults, their prime objective in studying.

While some one in five of college students drop out, this figure compares well with higher education, where students are heavily selected and financially incentivised. Financial support to adult FE students has declined under this Government. Education Maintenance Allowances for the poorest 16-19 year olds students are still only available in one third of England, although they will be universal in Wales.

The LSC's summary. 'Key Findings from FEFC Inspection Reports (2000-2001) notes that under the college inspection regime of its predecessor body, which it superceded in 2001, 97% of curriculum provision was satisfactory or better. Only 23 colleges so far have been inspected under the new Ofsted regime, so it too early to draw any firm conclusion on a baseline of over 400 colleges. However, in the 18 colleges in inspected in the Autumn 2001 term, teaching and learning were satisfactory or better in over 91% of lessons.


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