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FE commissioner pens checklist of 'warning signs' for colleges

The FE commissioner has compiled a checklist of ‘warning signs’ in FE institutions that could trigger an intervention.

In his latest letter to principals and chief executives, published today, Dr David Collins sets out 20 issues college boards should be aware of that could lead to a notice of concern from the Skills Funding Agency or an inadequate rating from Ofsted. Both of these could trigger an intervention by the FE commissioner.

He says that although the list is not exhaustive, it highlights some of the areas identified so far where “early questioning” of the principal or senior team could have prevented the situation from becoming worse.

The list is split into four sections: financial, organisational, quality improvement and general.

Under the financial section, Dr Collins suggests colleges should be concerned if their borrowing as a percentage of turnover exceeds 60 per cent, and adds that 40 per cent would “seem to be a reasonable affordable target”.

He also says staff costs of around 60 per cent of turnover would be a reasonable target, with anything above 65 per cent presenting a cause for concern.

Under quality improvement, he says colleges should be concerned if average student attendance rates are below 85-90 per cent, and if surveys show satisfaction levels are below 90 per cent.

Colleges should be concerned if restructuring is an annual rather than an occasional occurrence, Dr Collins advises, and if a “mid-morning walk around finds a high number of empty classrooms and class sizes below 15”.

“Exhibiting some of the above characteristics, of course, does not necessarily mean that a college is heading for trouble,” he writes. “However, it may well be. Acting to understand the reasons behind any of these problems and putting them right will stop the situation from deteriorating further – and make a financial notice of concern or an Ofsted inadequate judgement much less likely.”

An evaluation document published on Wednesday by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills says that the “vast majority” of people surveyed are positive about the impact of the FE commissioner.

The creation of the role has sent a “clear message” to the sector that poor performance will not be tolerated, it adds.

So far the outcomes of 19 interventions have been published, and the report says that the majority of providers have made good progress towards implementing the recommendations made.

Related stories

Most providers 'positive' about impact of FE Commissioner, report says – March 2015

Expensive college courses at risk of closure, warns FE Commissioner – November 2014

FE Commissioner surprised that colleges are missing the 'basics' – October 2014

Governors 'lack expertise' to deal with colleges in financial trouble, warns FE commissioner – June 2014

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