The lack of learner presence within a new FE body that will set professional standards across the sector has now been taken “seriously”, the National Union for Students’ president-elect has told FE Week.

Toni Pearce spoke out after a union-led discussion on learner engagement at the most recent steering group meeting for the FE Guild. She has now been invited to present a paper to the guild’s board.

It is heartening that the guild has been willing both to hear our arguments and to take them seriously,”

Last month FE Week reported how Ms Pearce called the new organisation’s plan not to include learners on its board as “a bad April fool”. Seats were set aside for the Association of Colleges, the Association of Employment and Learning Providers and the Association of Adult Education and Training Organisations (AAETO), which operates under the name HOLEX.

But Ms Pearce said it was “heartening” that dialogue had now begun between the union and the guild, which is due to launch in August.

“It is heartening that the guild has been willing both to hear our arguments and to take them seriously,” she said.

“We’re optimistic of further progress to ensure the learner voice is heard.”

David Hughes, chief executive of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) and chair of the guild steering group, said its commitment to ensuring learners had a strong voice was “clear”.

“We have agreed that we will develop a joint paper that will ensure the learner voice is heard at the highest levels in the new guild, and this will be presented to the new board when it meets,” he said.

“I look forward to continuing to work with the union.”

Ms Pearce, currently NUS vice-president, and Gemma Painter, NUS head of further education, delivered their paper, FE Guild Governance Arrangements: Involvement of Learners, to the steering group on May 7.

A guild spokesperson said Ms Pearce was also a “key figure” at a recent meeting at Windsor Castle where 27 delegates discussed how the guild would progress.

FE Week reported last month that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills had confirmed funding, excluding VAT, of £18.8m for August to April next year, and the same figure again for 2014-15, to run the guild.



It comes as welcome news that the FE Guild has revisited the issue of learner representation, and now could end up with a seat on its board for the voice of students.

Learner representation is critical to the credibility of the new body, and should also add value to its decisions.

After all, learners are the recipients of the FE service and so should have a central role in shaping proposals for improvement.

So I congratulate the NUS and representatives of the guild for being reasonable and putting their heads together for a rethink.

The result must be one in which the learner plays a role within the guild, with a voice that is listened to AND taken seriously.

Nick Linford, editor

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