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Collins to leave AoC presidency and head government agency

His job will be to put colleges and trainers first at the Learning and Skills Improvement Service

His job will be to put colleges and trainers first at the Learning and Skills Improvement Service

David Collins, the departing Association of Colleges president, who has been a vocal advocate for transferring cash from quangos to front-line providers, will soon be heading a government agency himself.

Dr Collins will be taking over at the Pounds 135 million Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS) in August, following the resignation of its former chief executive, Roger McClure, who stepped down last week.

Mr McClure said he was leaving so that the body, a national centre for expertise in further education that commissions programmes to improve quality and leadership, could be led by someone from a college or training provider background.

He said: "The creation of LSIS provided challenges for all concerned. The achievements of its first year reflect the remarkable hard work and determination of its staff to forge together a significant force for development in the learning and skills sector."

LSIS defended its record since its formation in October 2008 as good value for money. A spokesman said its predecessor, the Quality Improvement Agency, produced programmes worth Pounds 14 for every Pounds 1 spent on administration, while LSIS achieved a rate of Pounds 21:Pounds 1.

Adminstrative costs total Pounds 7m, leaving about Pounds 128m to be distributed in contracts, with about a third allocated by colleges and training providers and the rest by the three Government departments that fund it. But the size of the quango's budget has still brought it under scrutiny. Chris Humphries, chief executive of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, identified it as a possible area for cuts last month.

And with FE required to curb its spending by Pounds 340m, it has been decided to reduce the budget of LSIS by Pounds 50m from 2010-11.

Dr Collins, who was due to retire in August, said he had been asked to take on the role for one year. His brief was to ensure that the service was genuinely being led by colleges and training providers.

He said: "If you feel that something can be done better, one of the ways to do it is to put your money where your mouth is. It is the one job that would keep me off the beach."

Developing management programmes for staff in FE should be among its top priorities, he said. "Some of the best practices in management training have been lost in the past few years," he said.

Among the responsibilities of LSIS is the principals' qualifying programme, a training course to prepare new college leaders for the job. But reaction to it so far has been mixed.

While some have said work-shadowing other managers in organisations such as Transport for London gave them valuable insights, others said the course had too much "navel-gazing" and was not specific enough to further education.

The organisation also still had work to do to merge the systems of its two predecessor bodies, the QIA and the Centre for Excellence in Leadership, Dr Collins said.

Dame Ruth Silver, chair of the LSIS board, said: "David is someone steeped in current professional practice, with a track record in delivering excellent learning and skills provision.

"He also has strong academic credentials in improving quality and has written on leadership and management in further education."

The LSIS council, a 30-member advisory group that operates alongside the board, will now be chaired solely by Graham Hoyle, chief executive of the Association of Learning Providers.

Dame Ruth is stepping down as co-chair "in order to ensure that LSIS reflects the diversity of the sector".

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