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Major cull of award bodies demanded

Awarding bodies which issue certificates to all students are a huge expense and most of them should be abolished, according to college managers in England and Wales.

Ten authorities would be more effective than the 300-plus which currently absorb more than o60 million a year of the colleges scarce budgets, a survey has revealed.

College managers overwhelmingly backed Department for Education and Employment proposals to curb numbers. The department's suggestion, backed by the new Blair Government, urges awarding bodies to regulate themselves through mergers and alliances.

But the colleges are calling for a more ruthless cull in a report which calls City Guilds "the least satisfactory of the major awarding bodies".

The "most consistent for good quality" in the judgment of 127 colleges in England and Wales which responded to the survey by the Association of Colleges is EDEXCEL, formerly BTEC.

More than 300 different organisations were listed as being used by the colleges, says a survey report. However, "the needs of the majority of colleges would be met by about 30 awarding bodies," it concludes.

"Colleges are not convinced that they are getting value for money," said Roger Ward, chief executive of the AOC. "There are few awarding bodies that are seen to be giving value for money by more than half their clients."

While around 30 might serve the colleges well, managers want a radical cutting of the bodies. Seven out of 10 responding to the survey - sent to all 471 colleges under both Further Education Funding Councils - favoured fewer than 10 awarding bodies.

The cost of certificates and other services given by the bodies amounts to 1.7 per cent of colleges' annual budgets, a proportion which will have to be reduced to meet demand for efficiency savings of 5 per cent over the next three years - cuts which are unlikely to change for at least two years of the new Government.

The report shows that colleges could improve their use of the awarding bodies by improving the management and administration of the qualifications system internally.

"There is evidence of cross-college co-ordination and senior management involvement but there is a lack of an identified group within the colleges with responsibility for all awarding body activities, " says the report.

But the report added: "In choosing which awarding body with which to work, colleges are most concerned with factors which help the effective management and administration of programmes and the levels of fees.

"Colleges are less concerned with the provision of training by the awarding bodies or the availability of promotional materials. A substantial proportion of those replying (75 per cent) felt the awarding bodies should give more recognition to college internal quality assurance systems."

Ministers drew up plans earlier this year to curb the number of vocational awarding bodies and radically reform training in British industry. There was deep concern over the failure of 10 years of reforms to clear what was seen as a qualifications jungle.

The proliferation of awarding bodies was seen as a central reason. The solution was seen in a set of new tough criteria, under the new Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, to bring about self-regulation.

Small or under-performing bodies will be encouraged to wither or merge under a new system of controls over training qualifications.

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