Pull Your Socks Up FE, or Else. ; Today, in a Keynote Speech on Further Education, Margaret Hodge Unveils Her Solutions to Failings in the Sector. Here, She Explains Why Reform Is Needed

Article excerpt

IT HAS been a year of huge structural change for the world of post- 16 learning. Yet how many of the four million young people and adults that further education serves have really felt the difference?

This is the question I will be asking college principals and leading figures from the post-16 world of education and training today. It isn't born out of impatience, but reflects the urgent need to boost quality to give students a flagship service.

At present, there is too much variation in performance. And too few people have the choice of quality opportunities they deserve. Four in 10 colleges need to be reinspected in one or more curriculum areas and a majority of work-based training providers are weak or unsatisfactory. One in five students drops out and when you add to that an average achievement rate which is lower than we would like, that means students have a 50-50 chance of coming away from post-16 learning having achieved what they set out to do.

This needs reversing quickly if we are to provide the opportunities to which individuals are entitled and the skills needed to improve our economic performance. That will enable us to meet our target for half of young people to enter higher education by the time they are 30, by the end of the decade. We have laid the foundations for improved standards in the past 12 months. The Learning and Skills Council (LSC) is up and running with quality central to their agenda. New inspection arrangements are in place, we have invested pounds 620m in raising standards and we will open a new national leadership college next year.

But we need now a step change in performance across post-16 learning, and there are several proposals that I will be discussing today.

First, we are working with the LSC to devise a new intervention strategy to cut out poor provision. For those who have persistently under-performed, we need to be rigorous and single-minded in demanding improvement.

Prevention not intervention is the aim. That is why we are also looking at extending the reforms we introduced in schools to further education. …