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Baroness targets standards

Measures to improve standards, teaching quality and college management will be unveiled by education and employment ministers later this month.

Education minister Baroness Blackstone announced that another Pounds 21 million will be made available to boost standards when she addressed the annual conference of the Further Education Funding Council in Birmingham this week.

But she warned colleges to sharpen up teaching standards, governance, senior appointments and co-operation with other post-16 organisations.

Ministers have also endorsed the FEFC's own proposals to set tough standards in line with those being imposed on schools by inspectors and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

Lady Blackstone said: "We need to promote the highest standards of governance and management. We need to ensure the appropriate structures of governance. I am not persuaded that we currently have that quite right.

"The conduct of governing bodies must be efficient and proper. In the great majority of cases it manifestly is. But there are some exceptions which give me cause for concern."

She was particularly concerned at the secrecy surrounding appointments and promotions in some colleges. "I am anxious that procedures for the appointment to senior positions in college managements should be open and fair."

Proper checks and balances were needed and consultations on the way colleges were governed would continue throughout the spring, she said. "All colleges should have in place, and abide by, robust codes of conduct to underpin high standards in what is, after all, the execution of public business."

Lady Blackstone used the conference to announce a further Pounds 11m for college-based "skills" summer schools and information technology workshops to help colleges contribute to the work of the planned University for Industry.

A further Pounds 10m has been set aside for a new FE collaboration fund to promote mergers and other close collaborations, which, she said, could improve the financial health and effectiveness of the sector.

Lady Blackstone moved to diffuse antagonism over the Government's decision to scrap the promised White Paper and have further consultations instead.

"We shall be saying much more about our decisions affecting further education in the consultation on lifelong learning to be issued in a fortnight's time along with our response to Helena Kennedy's report on widening participation, " she promised.

Ministers were also anxious to see college managers and the unions settle their long-standing differences over pay and conditions. "It is surely axiomatic that a good climate of industrial relations in colleges is essential to the efficient delivery of high-quality education we all want to see, " Lady Blackstone said.

She was equally vigorous over the long-standing promise to improve teaching standards and, again, pledged imminent action. "You can expect the need for a proper emphasis on both initial and in-service training to feature significantly in this spring's consultation on the lifelong learning agenda. "

Closer attention must also be given to wider collaboration, she said. This included a more prominent role of local education authorities on college boards and closer links with the prospective new regional development agencies to improve overall planning of lifelong education and training.

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