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    20 February, 2005

    Ambridge, Borchester College and the FE sector

    I am sometimes forced to listen to The Archers so I recognised the Observer piece today concerning the so-called 'furore' over Brian Aldridge's comments about his daughter's desire to leave her private school for an FE college. But the article makes me despair for the FE sector, at least in England:

    Unfortunately, Aldridge's outburst coincided with the week that the Association of Colleges mounted its campaign to reduce the funding gap between schools and colleges.

    'As always, The Archers is highly entertaining and has lots of fun with Brian's pompous views,' said Anne Piercy, vice-principal of Stafford College, based near the fictional village of Ambridge in the Midlands.

    'But his ill-informed criticism is hurtful to those who study and work at further education colleges and could have a very serious impact by dissuading people from choosing a learning environment which may be enormously beneficial to them.'

    Claire Boxall, communications manager at Mid-Kent College in Chatham, is concerned that Aldridge's views could 'reinforce the derogatory opinions that people already have of colleges. We draw students from rural areas very similar to those in Ambridge and this sort of coverage is not helpful.'

    Another head of faculty, at Stoke College, agreed: 'I am horrified: we all know that Brian is both opinionated and frequently wrong, but for the casual listener, it puts further education in a bad light.

    'It comes exactly at the moment young people and their parents are choosing between the options of sixth forms and further education and the negative exchange could easily be used as evidence to base their decision,' she added.

    John Brennan, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, has attempted to calm the situation by offering his services to The Archers' producers as a consultant on future plotlines concerning Alice's education.

    Instead of these ludicrously neurotic responses I hope that FE college heads in Wales would understand that the right way to react is to recognise that Brian Aldridge is a duplicitous right-wing plonker and to praise his daughter's independence of mind and her confidence in the FE sector. In fact, they should be out there hiring the actress now for their recruitment campaigns.

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    Promoted by Leighton Andrews AM, National Assembly for Wales, Cardiff CF99 1NA.

    Author's editorial policy: This blog does not publish anonymous comments, unless they are really witty and I like them. If you have something to say, then have the courage of your convictions and use your name or an identifiable alias. Even then I reserve the right not to publish comments that are malicious, defamatory, stupid, pointlessly cynical or boring. Any of the statements or comments made above should be regarded as personal and not necessarily those of the National Assembly for Wales, any constituent part or connected body.