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Fury at funding rap by MSPs

The Scottish Further Education Funding Council reacted to last week's parliamentary audit committee report on its performance by saying it is "surprised and disappointed" - which is a polite way of reacting with fury.

The council has taken the unusual step of requesting an urgent meeting with Brian Monteith, the committee's convener, implying in effect that he and his fellow MSPs do not understand how the council works. The meeting will "try to clarify the committee's understanding of SFEFC's role and the evidence on which the report is based", it stated.

If any meeting takes place, however, it is likely to be with the committee as a whole and not just with the convener. Mr Monteith told The TES Scotland: "We await the council's written response, as is normal procedure, before we consider whether other meetings are appropriate. What we would welcome is real and positive action from the council rather than further meetings."

The council points out that the committee's findings are at odds both with the Auditor General's report last September and with the latest letter of guidance from Jim Wallace, Lifelong Learning Minister. Mr Wallace thanked the council "for the progress that has been made over the past year in helping to work in partnership with the colleges and other stakeholders towards the Executive's vision for the future of Scotland".

The audit committee, by contrast, expressed impatience and frustration, accusing the council of "dragging its feet" over realising the very vision that Mr Wallace mentioned. The committee also claims the council has not done enough to develop performance measures to find out how well the FE sector is performing.

The council reacted by quoting extensively from last year's Auditor General's report which hailed the work it had done "to encourage and support individual colleges to respond to the needs of the communities they serve and to wider policy objectives".

Robert Black, the Auditor General, went on to congratulate the council for its record of "continuing improvement in key areas such as student activity and financial management", adding: "The development of procedures for assessing the quality of FE provision has also produced further information that colleges are delivering expected standards."

The report also commended the council for improving the quality and quantity of its performance indicators, which MSPs cite as one of its key failures to make sufficient progress.

The council also points out that it shares responsibility for the performance of the FE sector with colleges. While it is responsible for setting standards in areas such as student activity and quality of provision, it can only influence other areas of performance such as college efficiency through its funding and other mechanisms.

The audit committee, however, is unlikely to be moved.

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