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The gauge of reason

A more sensible way of measuring the performance of colleges is about to be unleashed. Joe Clancy reports

A new system for measuring every aspect of the performance of colleges and other post-16 education institutions is to be introduced from September.

The new measures are designed to take account of "value added" and "distance travelled" when assessing the attainment of 16 to 19-year-olds, and will recognise the progress students have made.

The ears of further education have been ringing with these terms, and the Learning and Skills Council hopes this development will make sense of them in a way that means fairer funding for colleges.

As well as introducing new ways of calculating qualification success rates, they will provide a method for measuring adult learning that does not end in examinations or qualifications.

Colleges and other training organisations will also be assessed on the extent to which they meet employers' needs.

The new measures have evolved from the Government's Success for All strategy, which was launched two years ago as a result of the consultation between the LSC, the Department for Education and Skills, the Office for Standards in Education and the Adult Learning Inspectorate.

Paul Martinez, the LSC's group manager on the project, said: "A lot of consultation was conducted over this. The sector overwhelmingly said this was what they wanted.

"Providers told me that they are keen to have more and better data to benchmark themselves to see how they are performing against similar institutions."

Rosemary Clark, the Association of Colleges' quality manager, said: "In general, we are very pleased to see that measures are being developed to try to reflect the whole range of college provision and to identify the success they have with their students.

"Other measures used in the past have not always been appropriate and have missed being able to capture the way colleges succeed with different types of learner - particularly those with vocational qualifications and below level 3 (A-level equivalent) qualifications and adult learners."

Colleges are concerned, though, that the new system could increase the amount of bureaucracy and the workload of lecturers.

They also object to the fact that the measures will not be introduced in school sixth forms for three years.

Ms Clark said: "It is a bit anomalous that, while we are trying to reduce bureaucracy and place more trust in colleges, we are measuring everything they do much more closely than before.

"It is difficult to see how this huge range of new measures will not lead to an additional workload for teachers and lecturers.

"The LSC is quite adamant that it is not going to involve any more paperwork, but we are not sure how that is going to work in practice. We are working with the LSC to try to find ways of ensuring that it doesn't."

Trials are also to begin on further measures from next year, when colleges and other training organisations will be assessed on "value for money".

Satisfaction rates among students are also to be monitored and the relevant information will be collected. The LSC expects that the new measures will mean colleges will be compared more fairly with school sixth forms and work-based learning, by aligning the methods used to calculate success rates across the whole post-16 sector.

Mr Martinez said the measures have been designed to avoid creating extra bureaucracy for colleges and for improved organisation, with some of the burden being shouldered by awarding bodies for providing information about students' qualifications.

New software is being distributed to colleges and training organisations to enable them to record the progress of students.

The LSC says that improved "learner destination" data will help key partners to understand the impact of different learning routes on individuals' employability, career paths, and rates of promotion.

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