Reform for FE

Posted on 22 Jul 2010 by The Manufacturer

Skills minister John Hayes announces a consultation project to empower Further Education colleges and put lifelong learning at the heart of government policy for industry rehabilitation and sustainable growth.

John Hayes, minister for education and skills, today promised to deliver on the lip service that has been paid to employer led skills development in the past. Hopping from Churchillian rhetoric to quotes from Disraeli Mr Hayes vowed to “pick up the tattered flag” for FE in the knowledge that “on the education of the people the future of this country depends.”

Today Mr Hayes announced the launch of two far reaching consultation documents for FE Colleges which he said sought to “place learning at the heart of our society”. These documents focus on the pursuit of sustainable skills for economic growth and the simplification of FE funding.

Colleges from around the country are being called on to engage in a dialogue with government to influence skills strategy and the mechanisms put in place to support it. The Minister promised an open door to suggestions and information which need to be submitted over the summer. The closing date for the consultation is October 14th.

Mr Hayes made his speech to assembled industry and education representatives at Haringey College in North East London. In the past Haringey has been a strong industrial area with a dominant aerospace and light engineering heritage. Now however manufacturing and engineering has disappeared from the area and Paul Head, principle of Haringey College identified that “If we are going to rebuild the British economy and rebuild London’s economy we are going to need sustainable skills. In this part of London we have some of the highest levels of unemployment in the country but that hasn’t happened in the last eighteen months that has happened in the last thirty years. When one particular factory closed down in Tottenham Hale, a site that is now a retail park, the number of jobs on that five and a half acres went from three and half thousand jobs down to five hundred. That shows what happens when manufacturing leaves. We have got to be able to rebuild the industrial base of London in order to be able to compete properly.”

This challenge puts a significant onus on employers to ensure that they communicate effectively with local colleges, individually but also as sector groups, through conduits of the Sector Skills Councils, to ensure that the needs of manufacturing employers are addressed appropriately both by area and sector. Claire Donovan, policy manager at Semta attended this morning’s event and comments “There can be no doubt that raising informed demand (both from individuals and employers) will be key to helping our sectors meet the challenges of the future. We [Semta] believe the sector led approach; enabling employers to access expert information and guidance, can form the basis of a truly responsive education system.”

Mr Hayes recognised that reform or skills development and delivery was going to be challenging in the current economic climate but identified opportunity to adversity to be really radical in shaking out bureaucracy and inefficiency in the from the education system. Mr Hayes said “I believe we can do more than just save money. But if we are to really achieve cost effectiveness we must challenge and seek clarity around what skills are for, how they are funded and what role government should play in this.”

Continuing on this vein Mr Hayes called for “a serious, considered and measured debate about who should pay for what. A proper debate about what government should contribute what individuals should contribute and what business should contribute. There is an opportunity now to look critically at how closely what we are doing in education matches what learners and their employers need. It is important for those of us who care deeply about learning to approach this with a sense of excitement and not of trepidation.

“It is in that spirit that these consultation proposals have been prepared. The system we want to build is one that delivers on that can harness the promise and economic potential of lifelong learning and see the comprehensive spending review, not as a threat but as an opportunity to do precisely that.

“The direction we want to take is clear. The question is how to get there and that is where we need your thought on how to make the system better, we need your insight into how things work in the real world and the obstacles you meet in delivering what you want to achieve on a day to day basis.”