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FE focus editor's comment

So why are some colleges so much better than others? Of course if we knew the answer to that we could dispense with many researchers, close down parts of government, and redeploy great tranches of funds. Tantalising though this might be, we are not quite there yet.

As FE Focus reports (page 3) three colleges, Knowsley in Liverpool, Warwickshire in Leamington Spa and Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form college in Darlington have been judged by inspectors to have outstanding leadership and management. And sound leadership tends to produce excellent quality.

And it is not necessarily down to catchment areas. Knowsley is in one of the most economically deprived boroughs in the country yet still wins accolades.

All the colleges take management very seriously with the coaching and mentoring of all staff replacing the former idealised approach of the "charismatic" leader.

At the other end of the spectrum Hadlow college in West Kent, and Enfield and Southgate colleges in North London have all been judged to have unsatisfactory leadership and management.

Southgate claimed that a major reason for the poor report was that there is now a tougher inspection regime.

This is a bit like a poor workman blaming his tools. Nevertheless the Association of Colleges raises an important point when it says that some inspectors do not possess the skills and experience required to pass judgement on the effectiveness of colleges.

They say the quality of inspections is patchy and grades for leadership and management are inconsistently applied.

This is a serious charge for who inspects the inspectors? Well they do, but so do MPs, and the organisations are accountable to Parliament.

In an attempt to raise standards across the board, and ensure consistency the Adult Learning Inspectorate provides information about other providers, who, according to its chief inspector "do things beautifully and are prepared to lend you a hand."

So failing colleges could make a start there. The inspectors should answer the points raised by the AoC - who should provide more than just anecdotal evidence. Colleges desperately need new blood, innovative and inspiring leaders, not just at the top but all levels.

Next week the Centre for Excellence in Leadership holds its first annual conference - the researchers (and practitioners) have their chance.

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