Colleges warn of funding folly

Move to town halls will mean more red tape and harm the quality of education, they say

Colleges fear handing Pounds 7 billion of funding for teenagers to town halls will mean more bureaucracy and harm the quality of education.

An analysis of the response of colleges to the Government plans, unearthed through a Freedom of Information Act request by FE Focus, showed that most of them oppose the changes.

While the responses of the 433 organisations, ranging from local authorities to charities, indicated there was broad support for the move, colleges were twice as likely to fear it was a step backwards.

They were asked: "Do you agree that transferring funding from the Learning and Skills Council to local authorities, to create a strategic leader for 14-19 education and training, is the right approach?"

Twenty-eight general FE colleges said "no", while 13 said "yes". Even the 20 who were "not sure" raised concerns about new arrangements.

Among sixth-form colleges, which account for 95 of the 363 FE institutions in England, 12 were in favour, three against, and 15 `not sure'. Respondents who opposed the change included Kim Davies, deputy principal at Gateshead College, who said: "It will increase bureaucracy and threaten quality and provision by replacing a single body with a multiplicity of relationships, none of which are likely to operate impartially in the interests of the learner."

Michael Farmer, of Stroud College in Gloucestershire, was "not sure" about the plans.

He said: "Of real concern is the varying quality of local authorities and their capacity to undertake planning for an area of work which they have had no real responsibility for over the past 15 years." Local authorities controlled further education until 1993, when colleges became independent corporations.

Under the new proposals, colleges remain independent, but local authorities replace the LSC as the source of funding for all 16 to 18 education from 2010.

Consultation on the Government paper proposing the new funding arrangements, Raising Expectations: Enabling the System to Deliver, was completed in July. Ministers said there had been "broad support" for the new set-up.

Under the proposals, local authorities' involvement would be overseen by the Young People's Learning Agency, which would report to the Department for Children, Schools and Families. The Skills Funding Agency would oversee 19-plus education and training, under the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Dius).

In July, Bill Rammell, the further and higher education minister, said: "I am pleased our proposals have been welcomed by the sector."

Dius said 47 per cent of respondents agreed, with 20 per cent against and the rest undecided - but the picture was different among further education colleges.

A Dius spokesman claimed colleges were "supportive of the principles of our proposals," despite concerns about how the new system would work. The Government is meeting the Association of Colleges, the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Children's Services to work through the proposals.

Worcestershire county council was among many authorities in the "yes" camp, however, claiming in its response that the change "provides a clear line of accountability".

The local authorities' role is backed by the Audit Commission, which ensures value for taxpayers.

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