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FE in the frame

THE gibe that the latest further education statistics may be "data rich but information poor" (FE Focus, page 30) is one with which the school system has been familiar for the past decade as more and more statistics are showered down in the name of greater accountability. The same health warnings persist: do not compare apples and oranges, the data should be seen as a management tool, the indicators will provoke questions rather than provide answers, and so on.

Of course the two sectors are very different. Just as the key measure for schools is exam results, college performance will be judged as much on financial health as on anything else. This first round of FE performance indicators includes just about everything - except those on financial performance. Anyone looking for a rounded picture will have to trawl the funding council's website with some diligence to find the missing information which was issued during the holiday period.

This is surprising because the overall picture is of a sector emerging from the shadows, even in terms of colleges' financial performance. Certainly, it will not be good news that - 10 years on from incorporation - 15 colleges are still showing a deficit. On the other hand, there are some spectacularly improved balance sheets at colleges like Moray, Inverness, Clydebank and Perth which have had the most troubled financial history.

The funding council aims to bring financial security to all colleges by 2006. If this is not achieved, the Auditor-General and MSPs will breathe hard down the necks of college principals demanding to know what the public has got for the millions poured into the sector to help secure its foundations.

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