Further Education Reform and the Voluntary Sector

Further Education colleges in Yorkshire & the Humber are under strain. As well as massive upheavals in the way they are funded, big changes in the way that excellence in teaching and learning is maintained, and a strengthened role in information, advice and guidance, they are also being expected to develop meaningful links with their local communities.

In December 2011 the government’s FE and Skills System Reform Plan ‘New Challenges, New Chances’ was launched, a plan that introduced the idea of FE loans for people aged over 24, Lifelong Learning Accounts, and a ‘ladder of opportunity’ of comprehensive Vocational Education and Training programmes, with the first rung of the ladder based in community learning provision. 

Baroness Sharp’s independent report of November 2011 on Colleges in their Communities, titled ‘A dynamic Nucleus: Colleges at the heart of local communities’ found that colleges are in a position to: ‘harness the energy of communities towards positive outcomes which in turn promote health, happiness and social cohesion.’ Baroness Sharp concluded that ‘all colleges need to do more to engage with and respond to learners and their local communities.’ Her solution is not that colleges should try to do this alone, but that each FE college should work in partnership with local organisations such as businesses and charities.

In response to this, a working group of the Learning and Skills Voluntary Sector Network, facilitated by Involve Y&H, has drafted a ‘manifesto’ of ways in which voluntary sector learning and skill providers see such a partnership working. Whilst supporting FE colleges to gain access and traction in local communities, the VCS manifesto also considers how this role can be mutually beneficial for the interests of the VCS sector. The manifesto is at an early stage of development, and will be subject to further development, refining, and negotiation with the Association of Colleges.

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