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News at a glance

Extra cash for building is a welcome surprise

The Skills Funding Agency (SFA) has found almost #163;29 million in capital funding to be shared between 19 colleges that thought they had missed out on grants. The SFA had offered #163;100 million in enhanced renewal grants for colleges to pay for building work, but many colleges whose projects met the SFA's quality threshold looked set to miss out because the money had already been allocated. But the extra cash has been found after the SFA managed to "reprioritise" its budgets. "These grants are part of our continuing support and commitment to colleges and the modernisation of the FE estate," said Geoff Russell, chief executive of the SFA.

Under-pressure providers could 'cut corners'

Demanding performance targets could encourage learning providers engaged in the Work Programme to "cut corners to stay in profit", a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) has warned. NAO head Amyas Morse said that the Department for Work and Pensions must ensure providers do not focus on "easy to reach" clients, reduce service levels or treat subcontractors "unfairly". The NAO also estimates that just 26 per cent of over-25s who are on jobseeker's allowance - the group of people most likely to find work - will gain employment through the programme. This is significantly lower than the Department's own 40 per cent estimate. "Assumptions about the feasibility of the programme may be over-optimistic," the report said.

Opposition questions handling of SFA leadership

Following the shock departures of Geoff Russell and Simon Waugh, chief executives of the Skills Funding Agency and the National Apprenticeship Service respectively, shadow FE minister Gordon Marsden has raised concerns. In a letter to FE minister John Hayes, he asked: "Why was the Department (for Business, Innovation and Skills) not well under way with the process of appointing a successor (to Mr Russell) before his departure was announced? As I'm sure you agree, at a time of change for the sector, not least with the introduction of loans for FE students on the immediate horizon, it is vital that his position is quickly filled." Mr Marsden also expressed fears that Mr Waugh's departure could affect the government review into the quality of apprenticeships and delay action against those offering substandard provision.

Top rating for college is a vote of confidence

Weston College in North Somerset has been given the highest possible rating for its degree provision by inspectors from the Quality Assurance Agency. Following a year of scrutinising the college's higher education programmes, inspectors awarded a "confidence" judgement. They particularly praised the college's strong employer links and effective quality assurance mechanisms. "This reinforces what we always knew, that Weston College is delivering outstanding higher education with excellent results," said principal Paul Phillips.

Awarding body receives an injection of new blood

National awarding body NCFE has welcomed three new directors to its board. Terry Hodgkinson (pictured) will replace Chris Hughes as chair in February. Mr Hodgkinson is the director and founder of the Alchemists Foundation, a company established to raise the aspirations of 16 to 19-year-olds through inspirational events. He also has a background in construction and commercial property development. He will be joined on the board by David Allison, commercial director of management consultancy Footprint Group, and Roy Sandbach, a research fellow at Procter amp; Gamble.

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