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One for all, says red-tape group

Bureaucracy-busters call for single inspectorate structure. Ian Nash reports

A single inspectorate should be created to scrutinise all further education and training post-14, the taskforce created to bust college bureaucracy will tell the Government later this year.

Failure to rationalise the inspections structure will create a new mountain of bureaucracy and undermine efforts to slash red tape, the group will warn.

The final report of the taskforce, chaired by Sir George Sweeney, will say radical changes currently beyond the control of schools, colleges and private training providers are necessary for effective cuts in the volume of paperwork and unnecessary duplication.

The report, due to be released in November at the annual conference of the Association of Colleges, will highlight the group's achievements since the committee was created by the Learning and Skills Council in 2001.

It will say that all short-term goals recommended last autumn have been met. These include cuts in the volume of data that colleges must collect, a simpler database of learning aims and a softening of penalties imposed on colleges that miss student recruitment targets.

However, it will take at least three years for the group's medium to long-term recommendations to take effect. These include measures to tackle excessive demands from the exam boards and inspectors and a "change in culture" brought about with the loss of up to 800 administration jobs at the LSC. This has already run into union trouble (see right).

The taskforce has concluded that a simplification of the inspection regime can be achieved without legislation. The report will say the issue is more to do with the way things are done and will recommend patterns of sharing data between the Adult Learning Inspectorate and the Office for Standards in Education.

But the recommendation will inevitably ruffle the feathers of inspectors, particularly within the ALI. A substantial presence on the taskforce will push for more radical change, pointing out that a single inspectorate must have the final influence over reports and recommendations for action.

Sir George said: "We need to look at whether there should be one inspectorate and at the need for an overhaul of inspections."

He is confident that his group has a strong set of recommendations to hand over to the new taskforce, chaired by Sir Andrew Foster, Comptroller of the Audit Commission. The Foster group has the new task of acting as "gatekeeper" against new bureaucracy.

Problems of inspection overload are already emerging, according to the taskforce. Scrutiny of the new 14-19 partnerships is proving too complex, say college leaders, who insist that control of all out-of-school work must remain with the college to avoid "a new mountain of bureaucracy".

A typical example is where four or more inspectors make multiple demands from different feeder schools all wanting access to a single college class.

With many colleges planning consortia, and other partnerships with up to 14 neighbouring schools, management would soon become unmanageable, they say.

Sir George said: "Much has been achieved in the past two years and the taskforce must commend the LSC for making considerable effort to cut red tape. Colleges know that achievements have been made. They must also understand that there are no quick-fix solutions."

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