LSC has still to sell its reforms

Further education staff in England have given a mixed response to the Learning and Skills Council's programme of reforms in the sector.

A survey by FE Focus and the Learning and Skills Network shows that just over half think the LSC's Agenda for Change will have a positive impact, only 15 per cent think its Framework for Excellence will succeed in reducing bureaucracy and nearly half do not believe the proposed new technology to manage data about students' learning will cut the red tape.

The survey was carried out in 426 FE and sixth form colleges across England last term. The majority - 41 per cent - of the 429 who responded were middle managers, a quarter were lecturers and an quarter were senior managers or principals.

It found that 56 per cent believe the Agenda for Change reforms - which are designed to meet workforce skills needs, improve quality, simplify funding and streamline data collection - will have a positive impact, 14 per cent think they will be negative, while 31 per cent neither agree nor disagree.

There was strong reaction to the Government's shift in funding priorities to support 14- to19-year-olds and skills training. Nearly two-thirds - 63 per cent - say this has had a negative impact on provision for their college's local community and 16 per cent say this impact has been significant, while many bemoan the loss of adult learning courses.

John Stone, the chief executive of the LSN, said: "This is a view that should be taken seriously.

"If the Government's agenda is to develop a more bottom-up approach to public services, views from people in day-to-day delivery should be taken into account."

The LSC's proposed new framework for assessing the performance of colleges also gets a mixed response. While 42 per cent think it will help colleges to improve and one in three thinks it will support students' choices, only 15 per cent believe it will achieve a central aim of reducing the assessment burden. More staff rate the importance of marketing college resources and how employers and learners perceive provision and qualifications, than they do inspection grades and achievement data.

Almost half say their college mission statement has changed, with 82 per cent highlighting meeting employers' skills needs and 63 per cent highlighting personal and community learning.

However, 72 per cent cite the unwillingness of industry to release employees from the workplace and 54 per cent say there are not enough vocational teaching staff with appropriate skills.

Two-thirds support a marketing and communications strategy to improve the sector's reputation, and 76 per cent agree with promoting examples of best practice.

On many questions, large numbers of staff offer no opinion, indicating they are reserving judgment or they are uninformed, meaning the LSC still has some selling to do on its reforms.

Ray Dowd, the LSC's Agenda for Change champion, said: "The survey shows colleges are responding to the Government's reform agenda to become more responsive to the needs of learners and employers. It confirms that the LSC and FE sector have made much progress since the prospectus was published in 2005, but there is still more to do."

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