Toni Pearce: Challenges and chances for learners in 2012

In honour of the new strapline for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, FE Week asked two further education (FE) experts, David Hughes, chief executive of NIACE, and Toni Pearce, NUS vice-president for FE, what they thought the “New Challenges, New Chances” would be for learners this year.

These are my challenges and chances for learners in 2012


1. The introduction of a new fees and loan system in further education (FE) for adults studying at level 3 or 4 has the potential to decimate the way we see adult education being delivered in this country at the moment.

The idea that any government would find it appropriate for the most disadvantaged in society, who will have felt the bite of the recession the hardest, to have to pay for basic levels of education is entirely unpalatable. The government’s own consultation predicts that we will need to see a 20 per cent drop in participation to ensure that the scheme stays within budget and the idea of imposing an already unproven higher education market system in the FE adult sector is an absolute disgrace.

2. The proposed changes to eligibility criteria for Care to Learn funding has the potential to pull the funding rug away from many young parents who are trying to do the best for themselves and their children. The maintenance grants are specifically targeted at those in the most need, paying for childcare to allow young people to remain in, or return to education. Consecutive studies have shown the huge impact that this can have not only on the individual, but indirectly on their children too.

We will need to see a 20 per cent drop in participation to ensure that the scheme stays within budget”

3. Reform to the sector. The FE sector is one that has always seen more than its fair share of reform under consecutive governments, but the last 12 months has been particularly tumultuous. The introduction of new models of delivery in the sector have the capacity to fundamentally change the landscape of FE forever, with the risk of getting ever closer to private sector involvement in the curriculum and delivery.


1. The National Union of Students is launching a campaign alongside FE sector bodies this year to promote the incredible pedagogy that exists in the sector and to ensure that students are fully aware of what they should expect to deserve from their education.

Charters on quality teaching and learning and the use of technology in the curriculum will support students and students’ unions alike in the quest for outstanding provision

There is an amazing opportunity for the government to really reach out to the most disadvantaged people in our society”

2. With 2012 seeing the launch of the new all age careers service for FE, there is an amazing opportunity for the government to really reach out to the most disadvantaged people in our society, giving them the chance to become educated, play an active role and contribute to the regeneration of our economy. This is a chance the government should take with both hands.

3. Reform to the sector. The flipside of the unprecedented levels of reform in FE is that there have never before been so many opportunities for students to be really involved in the design and delivery of not just their curriculum, but their examination models, teaching styles and even institutional models.

It’s a really exciting time for the student voice to be heard.

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