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FE colleges need to become centres of excellence, says Blunkett


Plans to re-focus the emphasis of Further Education colleges to boost skills levels have been announced by Educaton and Employment Secretary David Blunkett.

The plan, which was unveiled at the Association of Colleges conference in Harrogate yesterday, will involve investment of £100 million over three years to help colleges to become centres of excellence in particular subject areas. Blunkett says that Colleges need to become more in tune with the local economy by developing specialisms in line with the needs of local industries.

The government is keen to build on the example of schools, which for several years have been allowed to develop particular subject areas as a specialism. Blunkett said: "We must achieve a radical transformation in colleges’ capacity to provide the skills we need to prosper in the new economy. Just as specialisms have driven up standards in schools, so in further education, specialisation will sharpen the colleges’ focus on meeting the skills needs of business...we must create the specialist technical excellence in colleges to meet the need for new skill needs in a modern economy. Colleges need to win the confidence of employers by being committed, innovative and having a reputation for excellence." Blunkett is keen to stress that the money isn't going to be 'something-for-nothing', adding that the new funding had been made available on the condition that colleges responded by "developing what they do best and modernising to meet the needs of the new millennium."

Blunkett wants half of all colleges to become centres of excellence for a particular vocational subject within five years, and the government will be looking for businesses to support these centres, "both with cash and with direct support and involvement from specific sectors." The Secretary of State has also announced more funding to train new college teachers - an extra £50 million next year and a further £100 million the following year - to reward good teachers, "subject to our being satisfied that proposals put forward satisfy our something-for-something agenda". Extra money is also being made available to fund learners with disabilities.

The incoming Learning and Skills Council is to be given a key role in identifying which colleges should be developing or expanding which vocational areas. Colleges will also be expected to look at how they will undergo the development process. National Training Organisations and the CBI will also be working on developing the new plans. The government is also keen to increase links between sixth form colleges and sixth-form centres in further education, with school sixth-forms as "a more rational use of expertise and facilities."

Responding to the announcement, City of Bristol College Principal Brian Styles told TrainingZONE: " I welcome the news of extra funding for the further education sector. It reflects the important role FE has in post 16 education and lifelong learning. As for the development of specialist centres of excellence within the FE sector; it is too early for me to comment on the implications of this for a large, general and successful FE college such as City of Bristol College. "

Free copies of the 'Colleges for Excellence and Innovation' pamphlet, which has full details of the announcement, can be obtained by e-mailing, quoting reference CFEI, or by ringing DfEE Publications on 0845 60 222 60.


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