£7bn 363 colleges 4.2m learners 263,257 staff

£2bn wasted each year

“How £2 billion of the Further Education budget is wasted on useless activities – and how we should reform the system”  looks like something that I couldn’t pass by without comment! although it has taken a couple of weeks to digest what is being claimed.

Alison Wolf explained what and how on video here – and published the document here and – party political warning! on ConservativeHome .

In the week that most colleges in England have been told that their Adult Funding budget for next September is being  cut by 10%-20% is she talking sense?

What she is saying seems to be this –

1. We are squeezing Further Education into a shape that doesn’t make much real sense.

The Victorian Mechanics Institutes were not so much concerned with “upping your skills and making money” but with knowledge and self-improvement.

Government policies have over time narrowed down to an “education means money” message.

2. But it isn’t at all clear that skills education is particularly the way to do this.

Do bankers [hiss! boo!] have banking degrees? No.

How highly do eg skilled IT people or engineers come in the salary pecking order? Low down

3. Governments can’t pick the winners when it comes to which types of education or qualifications to promote.

4. So – she argues that we shouldn’t.

We should back the education that people have a taste for, and which they choose for themselves.

And she makes the case for putting the money with the punters, even if this as low cost credits.

Existing systems could cope with it, would there be any need to bring in Capita?

  • GiftAid already exists to add government money to money paid to specific organisations
  • Tax Credits are complex, but the system is there to allocate an entitlement to people
  • Trust Funds have been set up for every child in the country for some years now
  • Student Loan system for higher education is now well established
  • Educational Maintenance Allowances are probably the best example,  firmly embedded within colleges and schools, rigorously assessed and monitored, tied into college management information systems, and with payouts only against evidence of individual enrolment, attendance and achievement.

Professor Wolf argues some interesting cases – as in workplace training [page 104]  that apprenticeships should not be subsidised, but should be a paid for in the same way as other provision, and that apprentices might have to pay their employer for their apprenticeship, possibly through a student loan. If young people with 3 A levels are in that position, why shouldn’t we trust other youngsters to decide if an apprenticeship in plumbing or hairdressing is worth paying for?

She believes that we waste a lot of money – £2bn as a figure , because people with their own money to spend, and their own priorities to decide, and their own decisions to make, would spend it differently.

My view?

Worth thinking about.

If we have to cut 20% or so out of budgets, we need to be sure that we are taking smart choices, and making  smart cuts.

Not everything we do in further education is worth doing, but some things are worth defending – and Alison Wolf reminds us that the path we have gone down leads us to a place which is very far removed from where FE started, which mixed vocational and non-vocational education.

In my office in the college I  found the registers from the first classes run in 1888.

The first class was for water-colour painting, with the names and addresses recognizable from family firms surviving today in the town as the gentry. The second class that day was also a drawing class, but for draughtsmen and shipbuilders.

There was a reason for vocational and non-vocational education being together in 1888, and there still is in 2010 – driving the funding towards skills and the prospect of riches is not the best way forward.

Dare I say “Power to the people”!


January 28, 2010 - Posted by | austerity funding, further education, SMART goals | , , , , ,

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