Hodge's row with FE rolls on

March 22, 2002

The spat between ministers and college heads over further education standards rolled on this week, with both sides trading blows.

In a letter to college principals and the Association of Colleges, lifelong learning and higher education minister Margaret Hodge defended her comments last week, when she suggested that further education standards had to improve significantly.

This led AoC chief executive David Gibson to question the government's commitment to the sector and to accuse Ms Hodge of "political dumbing down".

The confrontation was set to reach a climax yesterday when Ms Hodge was due to give a keynote speech at the AoC's governors' conference in London. She was expected to state again that although further education has some proven successes, standards across the sector are too variable.

In her letter to the AoC, she said: "The evidence points to variable quality and standards across the sector, and we are equally determined to tackle poor and mediocre provision."

In his speech to the conference, Mr Gibson was set to cite the latest inspection figures, which show that more than 90 per cent of further education provision is satisfactory or better. The Ofsted figures also show that 67 per cent of teaching in colleges is good or outstanding.

Mr Gibson said: "We are not saying ministers should not be concerned with professional standards in colleges. Of course, they should. For its part, the AoC never defends bad practice or weak management or poor qualification outcomes.

"But we are saying that ministers should not put spin where rational discussion should be. Ministers should not talk tough just to get a cheap headline."

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