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No 'horror story' for colleges

The management review ordered by ministers contains nothing that is likely to cause raised eyebrows, reports Neil Munro

PRINCIPALS and their board chairs have been taking a relaxed view of the initial findings from the consultants brought in to assess the effectiveness of management in further education .

"They did not unearth any of the horror stories that appeared to be so prevalent south of the border," according to one of the principals present at the private seminar at which staff from KPMG presented their findings.

John Atkins, one of the consultants, who has experience of the English FE system, said they had come across more positive examples of good practice than they had expected.

The review covered governance, strategic and operational planning, quality assurance, marketing, human resources and financial and facilities management. The report will go to the Scottish Further Education Funding Council which will make recommendations to ministers in May.

Neither Mr Atkins nor the funding council would comment on the results of the study.

Following a visit to 12 colleges, chosen as representative of the FE sector, not because of their outstanding good practice, the consultants found as many examples of strengths as of weaknesses. But the impression is left of a balance between the two, which was challenged by a number of principals.

"There was a feeling that not enough recognition was given to the huge achievements of the sector post-incorporation," Hugh Walker, principal of Clydebank College, said. "We have had to face increased growth at a time of reduced funding and learn very quickly how to manage very fundamental change."

Richard Millham, principal at Motherwell College, also felt the positive side had been underplayed, drawing attention to Mr Atkins's remarks. Mr Walker felt it had been a learning experience for the consultants as well since they not only found good practice but were now more aware of the extent of the collaboration to share good practice .

Jim Thomson, board chairman at Clackmannan College, commented: "There wasn't much in what the consultants said that would upset anyone. The conclusions are largely what one would have expected and I doubt there will be many fundamental changes to the running of FE colleges on the basis of these findings.

"Their mai concern seemed to be that colleges needed to do more on risk management, something which I would have thought most colleges were rather good at by now."

The review was ordered by Helen Liddell, the then education minister, following growing industrial unrest in the sector and two high-profile missions by the Scottish Office to put together rescue packages at Clyde bank and Reid Kerr colleges.


Good practice

* Open recruitment

of board members, responsiveness to customers and the community, and a growing interest in benchmarking and self-assessment.

* Effective strategic and operational planning with links between the two, based on involvement of all staff and including good risk analysis and achievable targets applied to all areas of the college.

* A central priority given to quality and its interaction with staff development and operational planning.

* A strategy which regularly reviews colleges' markets, makes a clear distinction between marketing and publicity and has strong links with quality assurance.

* Good industrial relations from human resource policies closely related to departments.

* Financial management shaped by college strategies, staff participation in setting budgets, online access to student and financial information, a clear strategy for generating income and course costing.

* Estates strategies flowing from development plans, including accommodation surveys and priorities for capital spending.

Areas for concern

* Better gender and age balance as well

as community representation needed on boards, and a lack

of proactivity in risk analysis and strategic planning.

* Less well defined "collegiate vision" in some colleges, tenuous links between strategic and financial planning and need for more staff involvement in planning and target-setting.

* Quality assurance systems are not

always extended into non-teaching.

* Marketing sometimes split across different operational areas.

* Poor industrial relations in some colleges, with underdeveloped human resource departments acting primarily as a personnel service.

* An absence of

long-term financial planning with budgets sometimes not linked to performance and poor data.

* A "minimum requirement" approach to estates strategies.

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