Nervous colleges demand clarity over missions

November 15, 2002

College heads expect education secretary Charles Clarke to explain the government's plans for restructuring further education when he addresses their annual conference next week.

They hope that he will allay fears that ministers plan a "major upheaval" by separating 14-to-19 provision from adult learning.

The secretary of state is expected to use his keynote address to the Association of Colleges conference in Birmingham on Tuesday to explain how the government intends to take forward proposals in its discussion paper Success for All , which was launched in June by former education secretary Estelle Morris.

The paper sets out plans for a "comprehensive reform strategy" pursued through area reviews that would require colleges to make decisions about their missions and courses.

College leaders are worried that this could mean some institutions being required to abandon either adult learning or courses for 14 to 19-year-olds.

John Brennan, the AoC's director of further education development, said that such a move would have "horrendous" practical and financial implications.

Mr Clarke is also expected to announce the government's funding plans for the sector - an issue that has taken on significance in the light of strikes over pay by lecturers' and support staff unions.

The AoC has told the government that its plans could cost an extra £2.5 billion by 2005-06. Mr Brennan said the actual cost would depend on ministers' expectations for further education.

The conference will also consider how standards can be improved in the sector.

Former Ofsted chief Chris Woodhead will question whether students are getting smarter and teachers getting better, and will suggest that syllabuses need to be made more challenging to combat grade inflation.

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