Colleges which are best at helping students set and achieve their goals will be the biggest winners out of the new funding arrangements, says Rob Wye, the new director of learning programmes at the Learning and Skills Council.
The amount of money paid for colleges hitting achievement targets is set to rise from 7 to 10 per cent of grants this year. Those who fail to hit the targets will have cash clawed back. Colleges are worried that those who take on the tougher tasks will lose out (see below).
But, in his first interview with the press since being appointed, Mr Wye told FE Focus such fears were unjustified.
"It depends how you define the wider outcomes. If you are saying everyone must achieve, say, a level 1 or 2 qualification, I would agree with you.
"But it's not about that. It is about being flexible in deciding what we reward. As long as you are setting targets for individual learners' goals - in relation to their own achievement - that's what we are rewarding. It should not be a disincentive to take on the tougher jobs."
Mr Wye takes over from Geoff Hall - leaving to become deputy chief executive of New College Nottingham - in a post that many see as one of the most thankless in the post-16 sector.
His own definition of the job is revealing: "My job is joining the bits that all the other people are beavering away on."
So, as Mr Hall will testify, the best he can hope is to please some of the people some of the time. He has a formidable portfolio. As well as being responsible for adult learning, funding and development, workforce development and young people's programmes, Mr Wye will develop the council's strategic role, helping meet key targets in the corporate plan.
He will be drawing on his experience as executive director of Northamptonshire Learning and Skills Council in the 15 months since the new council was created - and a wealth of expertise from 25 years as a civil servant. In the education and employment departments and Manpower Services Commission, he dealt with everything from pay and disability policies to training and vocational education.
At one point he became known as "Mr Modern Apprenticeship" for his work directing and raising the profile of the new initiative.
Joining up the "bits" as he describes them, offers clear challenges: new targets for adults reaching level 3 (A-level equivalent) and a rethink of how to tackle under-achievement at level 2 (GCSE).
There is still much to be done in promoting community and workplace learning, he said. More emphasis must be put on individual needs while cutting bureaucracy. "I am well aware of the need to reduce red tape. We must not introduce another system to get in the way."
He wants schools to take a more active role as outreach and community education centres for adults.
"Schools have a big potential role to play as learning venues for the wider community.
"We have community colleges and so on, but if you look at what are the most readily accessible, it is often schools in the village, in the community and on the estates. We should extend these to take in family learning."