Ministers seek guidance on inspection of training schemes

The softly-softly announcement last week of proposals for the external inspection of work-based training belie a rapid need to change, simplify and approve quality checks.

Ministers have asked the Training and Enterprise National Council to build on its ideas about how to organise and run external inspection of government-funded training. This is not exactly the full-speed ahead response that TECs wanted, but it is a significant step.

Today, the National Council will be scanning names proposed by the TECs to act as a project manager for the development contract. Next week, a steering group with representatives from the Department for Education and Employment and the TECs will hold its first meeting.

Alan Moody, chief executive of Chester, Ellesmere Port and Wirral TEC, will chair the group. It will also include chief executives Graham Hoyle, from Gloucestershire TEC, Jacqui Henderson, from Northumberland TEC, Roy Bain from North West London TEC, and Sue Reekie on behalf of Birmingham TEC.

The department has plainly taken account of some of the many views expressed during the consultation period last year.

The Confederation of British Industry, in its response, strongly supported the need for a sound work-based training route for young people and accepted the need for accountability in the use of public funds. But it was concerned about the bureaucracy that might be imposed on employers.

Employers themselves were worried that an OFSTED-type inspection regime would be completely inappropriate for the type of training programmes they were delivering. They did not necessarily see themselves as training providers and did not want to be subject to onerous inspection regimes.

Tony Webb, of the Confederation of British Industry, said: "We were initially cautious but it seems that some of the points have now been taken and concerns recognised. We have always worked closely with the TEC National Council. There is a fear that there could be an adverse impact on employer take-up of Modern Apprenticeships and Youth Training, but I am sure these fears can be sorted out."

A key element in the response from the Association of Colleges was the need for any inspection regime to be independent of those who manage or provide training, and this looks like being met.

James Paice, employment minister, said on announcing the project: "It will be important that the training sector and the public have complete confidence in the rigour and independence of the inspection arrangements, and I shall watch to see that these characteristics are clearly in evidence as the TEC National Council proposals are developed.

"It will also be important to develop arrangements that, while bringing employer-based provision within the scope of the regime, minimise the burdens on employers."

John Brennan, policy director for the AOC, said: "We have been pushing for an external regime for the work-based route that is consistent with arrangements in the further education sector and guarantees quality and simplicity."

It is significant that Terry Melia, formerly chief inspector at the Further Education Funding Council, will act as an adviser on the steering group.

The inspection framework will cover some 4,000 private providers, from large-scale organisations to very small groups.

An interim quality council to oversee inspection arrangements will be established. A national inspection unit will manage a programme of inspections and publish reports.

The Government has three aims in introducing the external inspection of publicly funded training. It wants to change the present emphasis on systems audit to one that takes account of quality, standards and the effectiveness of training.

It wants to develop a common framework of quality assurance among providers of training, satisfying both TECs and the FEFC, and reducing the burden on those who do the training. It also wants to make the quality assurance arrangements more transparent and open to public scrutiny.

Now the detail begins. What processes and structures are necessary to operate an inspection regime? Who will be inspected and how often? How will independence be gained and preserved? How will the process sit alongside others in the system, and perhaps influence them? And what happens if there is a change in government?

Watch this space.

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