It has recently come to light that the Further Education Funding Council is ahead of the game on this one. It has been running a pilot over the past year where the most unlikely people have been sent to inspect colleges.
The TES has managed to find some early drafts, which we print below: Report 1: Tumbledown College, Mill Street, Bradford. Inspected by the Women's Institute. The report said: "We have to confess that our first impressions were not encouraging. There were no roses round the door, ruched blinds on windows or scatter cushions in reception. On arrival we asked to be shown the jam-making course. The receptionist said she was sure there must be one as the chief executive was always promising jam tomorrow. Did it have national vocational qualifications status? Of course, she replied, you can get an NVQ in any daft subject these days.
"We met the chief executive and her eight vice-principals. None of the VPs would admit to being responsible for jam-making. The chief promised to appoint one who would.
"We asked to see the jam-makers at work, but were told that the college's information system wasn't good at identifying specific courses, lecturers or even students. It seemed that the software wasn't up to the job and the programmes that could do it had been on order since 1992.
"We eventually found the course in a hut next to the boiler room. All the students could perform the individual tasks associated with jam-making, but none had been taught how to put them all together and make jam. We found this puzzling, but it was consistent with the chief's promise. Grades awarded: soft furnishings 5, management 5, jam-making - ungraded.
Report 2: Dourface College, Industry Lane, Birmingham. Inspected by well-known FE house journal staff. They said: "At first we refused to believe this was an FE college. It wasn't like any of the institutions featured on our glossy pages. The buildings were decrepit; there was no architect-designed extension with fountains and flowering shrubs. We found only sad people posing as lecturers and moaning about having too much work and no pay rise since 1993. We did get a chuckle from them when we asked why they weren't working on the banks of state-of-the-art computers as found in all the colleges we normally have dealings with.
"We started to feel more comfortable once we met the chief executive and he showed us round his new Pounds 50,000 executive washroom, complete with power shower and low-flush loos. The suite was in pastel peach, which matched the soft leather upholstery in his recently-completed corporate client entertainment lounge. Our photographer was in Seventh heaven and we intend to recommend Dourface as an example to others." Grades awarded: staff morale 5, management perks 1.
Report 3: Bobshort College, Fairygodmother Lane, Bristol. Inspected by the Salvation Army. The inspectors said: "We felt at home in this environment. Having spent our lives among the poor, the wretched and the exploited, we easily struck up a rapport with the teachers. Others were less easy to get close to, however. On entering the building each day we were confronted by a man with five days' beard growth and a half-empty bottle of meths. His hand was outstretched and he was mumbling a request for money. When we eventually made out his words "Have you got any spare hundreds of thousands of pounds please", we realised it was Bobshort's chief finance officer.
"Very few copies of War Cry were sold on this assignment. Mostly the lecturers tried to sell us things as they had not been paid for the past six months. We couldn't properly assess the quality of the management either, as the chief executive was on sabbatical in the Cayman Islands and most of his colleagues were currently detained at Her Majesty's pleasure." Grades awarded: Faith 5, hope 5, charity - who are you trying to kid, this is FE in the 90s!
Stephen Jones is a London FE lecturer.