Drive for colleges to share expertise

Wales's 23 further education colleges are being urged to join a self-evaluation scheme, developed by their representative association, next term.

Four colleges have been working since September on the pilot project, which encourages institutions to share expertise and good practice in order to raise standards.

Principals hope it will satisfy politicians, who have been demanding that the sector raises its game.

Inspection agency Estyn, in its annual report, found standards were good or better in just over half of the FE courses it examined last year and teaching had more good features than shortcomings.

But it warned standards varied too much and that the sector was a long way off hitting Assembly government targets.

The association of colleges behind the self-evaluation scheme, fforwm, wants every college involved from September. Chief executive Dr John Graystone hopes all will reach a level at which they need only "light-touch" inspection from Estyn. He is bidding for a further pound;50,000 from the Assembly government's common investment fund to extend the pilot.

"We've learned it needs a central person to drive things along," he said.

"You can't always rely on colleges individually - people are busy. But you do need a point of contact in each." He said FE would look to provide better services in curriculum areas such as performing arts, and art and design.

Colleges are also keen to share ideas about how to retain students. And there is an increasing culture of colleges working together in areas such as joint planning and benchmarking, he said.

This entails using reliable data so schools, colleges and work-based learning providers can make what the Assembly government calls "informed decisions about delivering value for money in future".

Six institutions have taken part in the first phase of a benchmarking pilot, which ran from October to June, providing details about areas such as finance and exam outputs. It is expected a second phase, covering 75 per cent of schools, colleges and work-based learning providers, will be approved shortly.

"Benchmarking doesn't necessarily give answers but it does allow you to ask meaningful questions," said an Assembly government spokesman. Meanwhile, fforwm is also planning to lead a crusade against red tape in the sector.

The bureaucracy and red-tape reduction group, formed in March and including representatives from the Department of Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills, is working with Coleg Menai, Coleg Gwent and Barry to see what can be streamlined.

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