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Colleges reply to government critique


Yesterday the government sought to open discussions of the role of FE colleges with some none too flattering comments on the state of the sector. The colleges responded, and have now gone further. There follows a letter to Margaret Hodge, Minister for Higher Education & Lifelong Learning, from the chief executive of the Association of Colleges.

Dear Margaret

I write to express the deep concerns and, in very many quarters, the absolute anger of those professionals committed to the teaching and learning of four million students in our Further Education sector at the ill-conceived and dangerously misleading information you provided to the media in pre-briefings, in your Department’s press release and to the conference on Raising Standards in Post 16 Learning this morning.

Time and again Further Education has proven its successes, and tested its flexibility and commitment to modernisation. The sector has clearly shown its determination to ensure ongoing quality improvement and an absolute willingness to participate fully in planning those future structural changes, which have been proven to be required. Work with us all and we shall fully participate. Attack us and you damage us. I fail to understand how an unwarranted attack on colleges and their students creates a constructive atmosphere for schools and colleges to co-operate and create the new learning environment you rightly require for 14-19 year olds. I further fail to understand how the country will be enthused with an appetite for lifelong learning when the Minister responsible for it chooses to launch an attack on its principal providers.

The link between funding and quality in schools has long been politically accepted. It is inconceivable that colleges working on 1995/1996 core-funding levels do not experience enormous strains on the quality of their provision for students. In these circumstances it is nigh on a miracle that so many colleges have provided so much success for their students. They have every right to expect that you, as the responsible Minister of State, will do everything in your power to promote them and support our claims to the Treasury. I am delighted to be able to draw to your attention the following facts provided by the Learning & Skills Council; the Annual Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools and the National Audit Office.

Learning & Skills Council Key Findings from FEFC Inspection Reports 2000-01
- "The amount of good or outstanding provision in programme areas has increased significantly between 1999-2000 and 2000-2001. Overall, in 2000-2001, 97% of lessons were judged to be satisfactory or better. The proportion judged good or outstanding was 62%."
- "Grades awarded for management have improved, serious weaknesses have been addressed and the level of exemplary practice has improved… Only 5% of colleges were judged to have unsatisfactory management."
- Colleges have become ‘significantly better’ at judging the quality of their provision.

Some of the key findings in the annual report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspectors of Schools which has been inspecting colleges since April 2001 are:
- Colleges offer a wide range of courses at all levels. The level of academic and personal support offered to students is high, and priority is given to ensuring that students are well prepared to progress to higher level courses."
- In the first eighteen colleges inspected in the Autumn term 2001, leadership and management were judged to be satisfactory or better in all but two.
- Teaching and learning were found to be satisfactory in over 91% of lessons.

National Audit Office Report, Improving Student Performance, 2001:
Average 85% retention.
77% in 1999 achievement rate.
"We looked in more detail at achievement rates for colleges recruiting higher percentages of students from postcodes triggering ‘widening participation uplift’ funding. This showed that achievement rates for those colleges are significantly worse, with a median of 69% compared to 76% for all colleges. Colleges with large numbers of such students may therefore find it harder to secure better overall achievement rates."

We would appreciate your positive support as opposed to dangerous attacks. We would also appreciate positive leadership which is above all, motivational.

As you felt no compunction about approaching the press on these matters, I shall consider AoC at liberty to do the same.
Yours sincerely
David Gibson
Chief Executive


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