the man in charge of producing plans for self-regulation has said colleges could begin freeing themselves of excessive monitoring within a year.
Sir George Sweeney, who will hand a report on how to make colleges more independent to ministers next week, said he expected the process could be complete in less than five years. He began the report after Alan Johnson, the education secretary, challenged colleges last November to produce a realistic plan for self-regulation.
Sir George, who previously led the Bureaucracy Reduction Group, said: "I think that was a success - we reduced bureaucracy. But this is a more fundamental issue. If we had a more self-regulatory system, services would be better. Evidence shows that self-regulation works."
The report has been produced with the help of more than 30 group members, ranging from principals and governors, to representatives from the Learning and Skills Council and people from industries which are already self-regulating.
Some outside scrutiny would be maintained, with Ofsted continuing to inspect, the LSC keeping its policy and funding role, and external audits remaining to protect public investment in FE. But the plan envisages tasks such as performance improvement, planning, qualifications and accreditation to be taken over by colleges and their representative bodies.
"We have a highly regulated system," Sir George said. "What's different this time is the challenge has been given to the sector. I don't want this to be just another `initiative'. We don't want to create an alternative bureaucracy to the one that already exists. We have to convince the sector that it would lead to significant improvement."
He said the cause of reducing regulatory interference was boosted by the National Audit Office, which said 18 months ago that self-regulation was a realistic medium-term aim for FE.
It would also mean that FE would gain some of the benefits and freedoms from external control which universities already enjoy, Sir George said.
If the education secretary agrees to develop self-regulation further, a detailed implementation plan will be drawn up by August this year, with a prototype scheme beginning that autumn.
The current proposals envisage a phased reduction in outside monitoring of FE, finishing in 2012.