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The Association of Colleges is hoping the new Learning and Skills Council will adopt the best aspects from the old inspectorates. Simon Midgley reports

AN IMPORTANT issue for colleges in the creation of the Learning and Skills Council is what style of approach the new inspection regime will adopt.

It is proposed that there will be two inspectorates: one under the auspices of the Office for Standards in Education inspecting 16-19 school and college provision, and an adult education inspectorate to inspect post-19 full and part-time work and training in the work place.

Judith Norrington, the Association of Colleges' director of curriculum and quality, said that the key question about inspections, especially in regard to 16-19 provision, is whether the inspectorate should adopt a developmental and supportive approach, like the present Further Education Funding Council inspectorate. The alternative was simply to inspect provision on a given day and take no continuing responsibilty for encouraging improved practice.

"We were disappointed that a single inspectorate was not proposed," Ms Norrington said, "because we felt that it was important to rationalise the way that provision was looked at.

"Before the Learning to Succeed White Paper, colleges had been inspected by the Training Standards Council, the FEFC and, in some cases, higher education. What we were hoping for was a separation of funding and inspection so that there was clarity between those two issues. What has happened is that we have two inspectorates replaced by two inspectorates.

"We would advocate an approach to inspection which takes the best from the three inspection frameworks, the Training Standards Council, the Further Education Funding Council and OFSTED.

"It is vital that there are clear quality criteria set out, that there is a system that can be operated uniformly, especially for 16 to 19-year-olds, and that inspectors are appropriately trained and knowledgeable."

The Association of Colleges would advocate a full-time inspectorate, she added. At present, the FEFC has a core of full-time inspectors and OFSTED relies on part-time inspectors.

David Gibson, the association's chief executive, said that no college should be subject to more than one inspection process and that process should continue to rely heavily on college self assessment, which has already demonstrated its success in improving institutional quality.

He believed that it was also important to retain the college nominee system whereby a member of a college's staff joins the inspection team. Colleges, he said, could be very diverse and a nominee could help the inspectors appreciate the context and background in which the institution worked.

Colleges should also continue to know in advance which aspects of the institution were on the inspection agenda. Inspections should be examinations of the self-assessments the colleges had already undertaken, he said.

"The majority of colleges I have talked to also welcome having a dedicated college inspector because they feel that that is somebody they can work with as part of the continual improvement process. In a professional sense, it is good to have somebody that you can bounce your ideas off."

As regards the inspectors, Mr Gibson said it was important that "at least a significant number" were full-time professionals. "I think they ought to have a careful and detailed induction, work shadowing and other forms of staff development support, especially when they are going into colleges and looking at the role of governance, management and leadership. They may have excellent curriculum knowledge, but they may not have had the same experience in looking at those other aspects of the institution," he said.

The Government's aim was to drive up quality and raise standards, Ms Norrington said. One way it had encouraged this was by creating the Standards Fund, which supports staff development. This academic year it had pound;30 million to disburse.

The AOC has set up an information and advice telephone line to advise colleges on achieving quality improvements. Ms Norrington said that, while governments often looked for quick results from initiatives, raising quality took time. "It's a long process. It does not necessarily work in academic years."

The association, under the auspices of the FEFC, has also set up a quality initiative programme, based on the idea of matching the learner to the learning environment and trying to move away from the past deficit model of learning. "It's a matter of not saying 'You are the problem. You have all these things you have not achieved'," Ms Norrington said.

"What we are trying to do with inclusive learning is to start off with what you are, what you have and where you want to get to and then say 'How best can the college support you in achieving that? What are the range of learning opportunities you will need to get there?' "

Two years ago the association worked with 96 colleges to produce staff-development materials. Now it is deploying facilitators for the FEFC in the colleges to help them use these materials, Ms Norrington said. "These materials cover all aspects of learning styles - the way you teach, how you might explain to governors what they need to know, a whole tool kit of ways of trying to help teachers to be more aware and responsive to the different needs of their students." The initiative, she added, had played a fundamental role in improving teaching and learning and changing institutional practice.

Colleges are also now being encouraged to have quality committees which give governors the opportunity to monitor student recruitment, retention and achievement. Hitherto there has been a tendency for governors to think that their prime responsibility was to make sure the college was solvent.

The association has also been working on a good practice handbook for NVQs, an overarching certificate in key skills at the age of 18 and has started work on a national project looking at how to support colleges implementing key skills.


In 19945 3,033,500 students were enrolled, full and part time, in further education colleges in England. By 19978 the figure had risen by 30.2 per cent to 3,948,700

That year 25.8 per cent of students in FE were full time and 74.2 per cent part time, of which 22 per cent were on evening classes

Of all the FE students, 3.2 per cent were studying GCSE courses, 6.8 per cent A and AS-levels, 8.3 per cent GNVQs, at all levels, and 12.7 per cent NVQs, at all levels

Broken down, 939,300 students enrolled on level 1 and entry NVQ and GNVQ courses, 837,000 on level 2 GCSE, GNVQ and NVQ courses, 814,200 on level 3 GCE A-level, GNVQ and NVQ courses and 117,400 on level 4, 5 and HE courses. A further 479,700 students enrolled on courses where the level of study was not specified

The 19 per cent of students aged under 19 on Further Education Funding Council funded courses in FE colleges and other institutions were studying for 1.9 million qualifications

The 81 per cent of adult students on council funded courses were studying for 3.9m qualifications

The average annual income for main gradesenior lecturers in FE is around pound;18,000,the college lecturers' union NATFHE estimates, compared with the average for teachers in schools of pound;23,904 (NUT figure) and pound;21,580 for police constables after five years of service

TEC funded training:

In England and Wales, there are 130,000 level 3 Modern Apprenticeships, 37,000 level 2 National Traineeships and about 100,000 young people doing other forms of training

The work-based Learning for Adults for the long-term unemployed aged 25 and over has 33,000 participants in England and Wales

The New Deal for the long-term unemployed aged 25 and over is helping 83,000 people in Britain

The New Deal training scheme is helping more than 140,000 18 to 24-year-olds in Britain: 73,000 on gateway programmes, 44,000 in subsidised jobs, education or training, voluntary or environmental work and 24,000 on follow-through schemes

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