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Can-do on cutting cost of exams and assessments

I refer to the article "Qualifications boom pays off for billion- pound exam boards" (March 26), which centres on the level of fees paid by colleges to awarding bodies.

For two years, FE Sussex - the consortium company of the 12 post-16 colleges in Sussex - has pursued a highly proactive strategy of reducing the costs of examinations and assessments. As a consortium, our annual spend on assessment services is in excess of pound;5 million - a considerable sum. Our cost-reduction strategy has already cut this by more than pound;250,000 and we are ahead of our target for a 10 per cent reduction by the end of 2011.

Cost reduction manifests itself in two forms - cash discountsrebates and increases in service levels. At first sight, the former appear to be most attractive, but in practice the latter are equally important; these have reduced college administration time, removed frustrations and provided opportunities for continuing professional development, staff development and sponsorship of college activities.

I can report the two major vocational awarding bodies are well aware that the sands have shifted. They have responded to our initiative with alacrity, are responsive, accessible and keen to work with us.

The strategic agreements we have signed with these awarding bodies are partnership arrangements. We do not take all and give nothing - we have the strategic ability to target our business and spend to ensure we receive best value. We are also available to assist awarding bodies when they require rapid access to curriculum issues in colleges or other advice and guidance.

We are now beginning the next phase of our examinations procurement strategy - how we can strategically target our business to ensure best value for money.

The future will be very different from today - requiring boards to tender in the same way as any other supplier is but one example of how we intend to drive our business and provide the best value for our colleges.

Tim Strickland, Chief executive officer, FE Sussex.

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