Further education representatives attacked the new inspection scheme for colleges at a fringe meeting attended by lifelong learning minister Malcolm Wicks at the Labour Party conference .
Prime minister Tony Blair spoke of an "overhaul of further education to improve standards" in his leader's speech, referring to the new regime under which schools inspectorate Ofsted and its controversial head, Chris Woodhead, take some responsibility for inspecting colleges.
Mr Wicks told the meeting: "In terms of social inclusion, many of our young people are doing very well. Many will be able to go to university and it's a scandal that every year people come out of the woodwork to complain about standards at A level."
He went on to discuss the problem of social exclusion. "The statistic that really haunts me is the 150,000 16 to 18-year-olds - 9 per cent of the cohort - who are not in education, not in training and not in work," he said. "Our country will prosper if we take the skills issue seriously but it is also about social inclusion." His comments echoed Mr Blair's view that the economic need is now aligned with what is morally right.
Paul Mackney, general secretary of Natfhe, the lecturers' union, said: "I don't think it is helpful to have a chief inspector who says that we are in danger of educating people to the level where they will be disappointed."
Mr Mackney also attacked the composition of the new inspectorate. He said:
"Of 40 full-time people in the new inspectorate, none of them is black, and that has got to be addressed. You can't go into boroughs like Hackney with an all-white inspectorate team and have any credibility."
David Gibson, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, welcomed the role that the education maintenance allowance could play in social inclusion. He also called for more money to be channelled to further education students and colleges.
"Further education students have to eat, too," he said. "And even though further education has more students than higher education, higher education has the bigger access funding. Students in higher education get loans. Students in further education do not."