The inspectorate has candidly admitted that the way the performance of colleges is currently measured "does not reflect the full picture of the learning, achievement and attainment that takes place", in a report for the Scottish Funding Council on learner progress in FE.
Colleges have long argued that this is the case: for example, while student retention is regarded as one of the indicators of success for a college, success for the learner could be leaving for a job or a university place. Yet large numbers "dropping out", no matter how positive the reasons, have a negative impact on the perception of individual institutions.
The colleges also complained loudly to the inspectorate about existing data, forcing HMIE to report: "Overall, the sector lacks confidence in the accuracy of the data it collects, as a result of inconsistent practices across the sector." This, in turn, impacts on confidence in national statistics and benchmarking activities among colleges.
Although HMIE wants to retain performance indicators (albeit improved) on student retention, progress and attainment, it agrees that broader measures of achievement are also necessary.
The inspectors recommend that the council should work with colleges to develop a new measure known as "distance travelled" - how much progress a student has made. This would have to be "helpful and non-burdensome".
The report notes: "It is important to recognise that formal awards or employment may not be what individuals require from their learning. The absence of such a clear end point does not invalidate the progress they have made through learning."
Such progress could include the impact of learning on their lives, improvements in the way they feel about themselves and their relationships, development of initiative and involvement in the community. These could be assessed by tutor and self-assessment, scales of feeling or agreement with statements.
Although almost all colleges recognised the potential benefits of a distance travelled approach, in improving learners' confidence and motivation, their overall view was that developing national measures would be "challenging, difficult and highly complex, as well as expensive".