Blackstone raises FE stakes

February 13, 1998

College governance will be made "open and fair" and lecturers will have to sit teacher training qualifications under the government's lifelong learning proposals to be set out later this month.

In an attempt to quell disquiet over the government's decision last week to scrap its lifelong learning white paper, higher education minister Baroness Blackstone told the Further Education Funding Council's annual conference this week that the college sector was "vital to the nation's future".

A "consultation paper" to be published by the government on February 25 would include a raft of carrot-and-stick measures for the sector, she revealed.

Speaking in Birmingham, Bar- oness Blackstone said that standards of governance and management in colleges would be addressed in the forthcoming paper. Changes to the "framework for college governance", to be consulted on in the spring, would include local authority representation on governing boards. "We must ensure that all the key stakeholders are represented on governing bodies," she said.

The government was concerned about the conduct of some governing bodies. "I am anxious that procedures for the appointment to senior positions in college management should be open and fair," she said. Educational standards also came under attack. In some colleges standards were "unacceptably low". "We have to tackle this head on," she said.

This would include a tougher approach to staff development. "You can expect the need for a proper emphasis on both initial teacher training and in-service training in FE to feature significantly in this spring's consultation on the lifelong learning agenda," she said.

The minister hinted that the government's comprehensive spending review would be kind to further education.

She announced an Pounds 11 million grant to the FEFC to "develop the IT infrastructure of the sector", and prepare it to meet the distance learning needs of the forthcoming University for Industry.

She also announced a further Pounds 10 million in 1998-99 for a new FE Collaboration Fund, to "help promote mergers and collaborations within the sector. We are not saying that rationalisation is always the answer," she said. "But we do say that in the right circumstances it can contribute to the sector's financial health and raise the standard and range of college provision.

"Maximising FE's contribution to the lifelong learning revolution depends on colleges responding positively to the challenges we face," she said. "I am confident you will rise to those challenges."

But many in the sector have expressed dismay that the white paper has been pulped. Helena Kennedy QC, author of the Learning Works report into FE participation, said: "Lifelong learning can be meaningless rhetoric unless we get behind it with real policies."

* Funding distortions, page 8

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