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Inspectors want more detailed college charters

Many colleges publish inadequate information on the steps they are taking to alleviate student poverty and support those with special needs, Further Education Funding Council inspectors said this week.

These are "common deficiencies" in the commitments spelled out by colleges in the charters they must produce for students, parents and employers. Another serious shortcoming is inadequate information on credit accumulation - the means by which students can gain national qualifications flexibly, picking from a range of courses and study programmes.

The first in-depth survey, looking at achievements in 127 colleges, shows all are "vigorously supporting" the Government's charter for further education - published in 1993 as an extension of John Major's Citizen's Charter. The initiative was adopted in FE 18 months ago.

Inspectors praise considerable achievements made and say the charter has become the main source of public information on student entitlement. They are most used to fix minimum standards.

Some colleges use them to fix a maximum of 10 days for teachers to return marked assignments. Others insist that administrators will reply to applications within two days.

One college guarantees a decision on applications for access funds within 14 working days and payment of cheques to successful applicants within five days. Some colleges promise progress reviews for all students every term under the charter.

There was also widespread consultation with staff, students, employers and community representatives in most colleges before the charters were produced. College managers have been keen to get charters in place.

But the initial enthusiasm appears to be waning, the inspectors warn. They say in some colleges, the early momentum will have to be rediscovered if their charters are to continue to be relevant.

They added there was still room for much improvement. Many students lacked a clear understanding of their entitlements, part-time students often failed to receive charters. The guarantees given were also often too general.

Many argued that the demand for more written information was unnecessary bureaucracy and that time was better spent getting students to look at the facilities for themselves. But the inspectors' report indicates that the lack of adequate information may be hindering prospective students.

Despite the criticisms, the FEFC's chief inspector Terry Melia was optimistic. "Colleges have had charters only since summer 1994 but they have vigorously adopted them as an important feature in their quality systems," he said.

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