Further education and the lost opportunity of the Macfarlane Report

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Abstract

Further education (FE) colleges have long been regarded as the 'Cinderella service' of English education. From their origins in the technical institutes of the nineteenth century, through the years of haphazard growth in the early twentieth century, and for most of the era of local authority control from 1944 until the early 1990s, FE tended to be underfunded, marginalised and overlooked by the state. This has changed dramatically over the last twenty years. Successive waves of policy and 'reform' have been imposed upon colleges, which are now forced to compete in a highly marketised and intensely performative environment. However, there was a brief, but now largely forgotten, moment when a radically different future for FE seemed possible.

This article revisits the Macfarlane Report of 1980 and argues that, had its initial recommendations been accepted, the system of post-compulsory education in England could have been transformed. It is argued that the rejection of the proposal made in Macfarlane's first draft - that a national system of tertiary colleges be established - represents a key lost moment for FE. Had this been accepted, post-compulsory education in England could, potentially, have been re-formed according to the principles of comprehensive education; institutional collaboration rather than competition would have been encouraged; an enhanced service for both students and the wider community could have been created; and opportunities to break down, or at least reduce, the entrenched, long-standing and class-based barriers between academic education and vocational training would have been opened up.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)159-169
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Further and Higher Education
Volume33
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 13 May 2009

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