The Secretary of State for Education told colleges this week that more young people needed to reach "higher levels of achievement". But on the same day, a survey revealed that severe financial problems were hindering colleges' attempts to offer higher level courses.
Gillian Shephard told 400 college managers at the annual meeting of the Association for Colleges on Wednesday that they must raise young people's levels of expectation and ensure that provision was well matched to their needs. Her remarks were at odds with a survey carried out by the AFC, which revealed that colleges do not have adequate resources for higher level courses.
The survey shows that almost two thirds of colleges now offer higher level courses, mostly vocational HND and HNC.
College managers felt further dismay this week at the publication of the second national league tables, which underplay students' vocational achievements.
Ruth Gee, chief executive of the AFC, said the Department for Education needed to embrace all college achievements or omit colleges from the tables. A working group has been established to find a method of recording added value in the league tables.
She also expressed concern that the results of the AFC survey indicated that colleges will be unable to meet expected new National Training and Education targets at HND standard. This would be particularly ironic, she added, since demand for higher level courses in FE is rising. Ms Gee also announced that a new working party was being set up to look at the lessons to be drawn from "indefensible" events at Derby Wilmorton and St Phillips colleges, subjects of damning reports into mismanagement which were released last week. Ms Gee said colleges need a source of advice on all management issues.