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Fifteen years ago further education (FE) colleges in England were removed from local education authority (LEA) control and re-formed as 'FE corporations'. Now, it is proposed that, from 2010, local authorities will become re-involved in the running of FE. Given such a prospect, this article takes the opportunity to look back at colleges under LEA control and to critically consider what many FE teachers regard as a golden era: a time which was certainly one of less pressured and more stable circumstances. Whilst this article does not attempt to justify any of excesses that have characterised FE since incorporation, it is recognised that there is a temptation to view FE's past through rose-tinted glasses. It is argued that, despite the turbulent environment in which colleges now exist, the era of LEA control should not be romanticised and that, in the past, FE was highly variable and flawed in many ways. In exploring this argument this article reviews four inter-linked themes related to LEA control: local authority governance; the role of college managers; the position of FE teachers; and the service provided to students. It highlights some of the shortcomings and problems of LEA control and argues that the future role of local authorities in FE should not be viewed as an opportunity to turn the clock back to a bygone era. It should be seen as a chance for a fresh start rather than as a step back in time.
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