Flagship is cast adrift

Catalogue of college concerns forces quango to rethink reforms designed to boost performance.

The launch of the Government's flagship reforms to encourage the best performance from FE is to be delayed for a year after a flood of complaints from colleges.

The Learning and Skills Council's new Framework for Excellence is one of Labour's reforms designed to clarify performance information and reduce bureaucracy and intervention levels for better-performing colleges.

It was intended to be introduced from August 2007 in FE colleges, sixth form colleges and work-based learning providers. The LSC said it will pilot the system with 100 colleges and private training providers next year before fully implementing it in 2008-09.

The delay follows the LSC's consultation on the framework with colleges, other training organisations and employers. A report published this week lists a catalogue of concerns about the proposed system.

Despite support for the principles of the framework, there was uncertainty that it could be implemented effectively in the original timescale. There are "serious concerns" that the framework would result in the LSC having to handle more data, increasing rather than reducing bureaucracy.

The report notes "exasperation" that school sixth forms will be exempt from the new system. A star rating system for FE providers, favoured by the Department for Education and Skills, received the thumbs down, with less than 10 per cent of respondents in favour.

The LSC admitted its original aim of implementing the framework from 2007 was too ambitious. Roger Marriott, the LSC's director of quality and evaluation, said: "As a result of the response, we are reviewing the proposals, particularly those regarding the introduction of the framework and the use of different grading scales.

"The pilot will involve 100 colleges and private training providers. This will lead to the implementation of the framework and the publication of ratings for 2008-09."

The LSC will publish a revised schedule for developing the framework and arrangements for piloting next year. Framework for Excellence is based on a set of seven performance indicators, which will define three aspects of a college: how it responds to the needs of students, employers and the community, how effective it is, and how it manages its finances.

Colleges will be expected to grade their own provision using the same four-point scale - outstanding, good, satisfactory or inadequate - as used in the common assessment framework. It also proposes a new five-point scale to determine an overall performance rating, containing a new category of "underperforming" - used to identify colleges that are satisfactory, but not improving.

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