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Report stresses quality and local control for colleges;FE Focus

The biggest inquiry so far into the funding and working of the further education sector since incorporation was published this week. Ngaio Crequer and Harvey McGavin report.


Franchising of courses should not be allowed to distort the way colleges work and how they are funded, the report says.

"High-quality franchising can play a valuable role in the FE system, because of the way it can increase participation, extend access and contribute towards a more skilled workforce.

"However, in order to achieve this, franchising should grow from colleges' primary tasks of introducing students to learning - at many levels - and helping them progress. The impetus to enter into franchising arrangements should be to further this task, rather than simply maximising income."

The report noted that there had been instances "where franchising would seem to have added minimal value to students, and yet considerable amounts of public money were allocated to colleges, employers and private training providers for it".

Franchised courses should not be funded if they are delivered solely outside the area served by the college itself except in exceptional circumstances, which would include:

* the franchisee must be a national employer or organisation; * similar provision of equally high quality is only available at a higher cost than the nationally-franchised provision; * the franchising college must be recognised as a high-quality specialist in the relevant field.


A clear "hands-off" is given by MPs to the Government in the way the further education sector is run.

Although funding should be used as a planning tool by the Government to ensure strategic priorities are met, central government does not have a role at a detailed level.

"Further education is a locally responsive service: the Government's role should be to put in place a strategic framework that will promote effective local relationships," says the Select Committee's report.

It reserved its ammunition for the plethora of bodies involved in the planning and delivery of further education. Instead, the funding council was well placed in its regional committees to take a greater role in the planning of FE.

Its role in ensuring "adequate and sufficient" provision should be strengthened, with a duty placed upon it to report annually to the Secretary of State on the sector's capacity to satisfy the need for FE at a local level.

MPs took issue with views from the Local Government Association and the TEC National Council that it did not matter who took the lead in bringing FE organisations together.

This was a job, they said, for regional committees of the FEFC. They also wanted more rationalisation of FE providers, saying that in the Thames Gateway area there were 14 colleges alone.


The CONTRIBUTION of teaching and support staff is praised in the report as "the major factor in the many achievements made since incorporation".

But the rewards they have enjoyed have not always been commensurate with their hard work. Silver Book agreements have been dismantled, but no new national standard for pay and conditions has emerged and contracts continue to vary widely .

Financial pressure had led to a huge growth in part-time workers - in 199596 55 per cent of all staff and 39 per cent of teaching staff in FE colleges worked part-time. In 199495, an estimated 42 per cent of staff working more than 15 hours a week were on temporary contracts compared to a national average of 9 per cent.

Against this backdrop of increasing insecurity, the report recommends establishing a framework for model conditions of employment "reflecting the fact that it is a national service".

The report sounds an unambiguous warning for the Further Education Development Agency, criticising its lack of a "clear strategic vision" and questioning its role. "We were not convinced that FEDA offers good value for money ... or that its work justifies an annual expenditure of some pound;10 million," the report says, adding that its FEFC funding "should be reduced accordingly".


The REPORT calls for a clearer appraisal of the Government's plans for modular A-levels and GNVQs but notes that proposals to allow only one resit for A-level modules "fit ill" with their stated commitment to lifelong learning.

"If the current agenda of widening participation and lifelong learning is to be put into practice, the qualifications system needs to recognise the need for achievement over differing timespans."

Collaborations between colleges and universities in the provision of higher education should be encouraged, but not where it is at the expense of serving their traditional groups. The report notes that while college access courses account for only 1 per cent of FEFC funding, they are the means by which 13 per cent of the university population gain entry to higher education.

"The criteria for deciding where HE is taught should not be based on the artificial demarcation between types of institution, but on a clear commitment to learning progression, to high-quality provision, and to providing access to higher education at a location which suits learners' needs."

"We recommend that the FEFC ... ensure that mainstream FE provision is not displaced by colleges wishing to increase their HE provision. We would not wish to see FE colleges suffer from 'mission drift'."


NEW LEGISLATION to ensure openness and accountability within FE should be introduced to counteract the worst excesses of the post-incorporation culture change.

The report recommends a number of measures to ensure its expectations of the "highest levels of probity" in the sector, including:

* The appointment of an independent ombudsman to deal with complaints from students, whistle-blowers and others.

* The appointment of an independent clerk to the governing body of each FE college.

* A register of interests of governors and management open to public scrutiny.

* The publication of a code of conduct based on guidance issued by the Secretary of State.

* Opening meetings of college corporations and their committees to the public and making their minutes available for inspection.

* The FEFC's duty to intervene should be clarified and strengthened. Where there is evidence of mismanagement, the FEFC "should be willing to intervene at the first danger signal".

* Governing bodies should include representatives from staff and students, the local authority, community bodies, local business and parents of students.

The report says that the present system made it "too easy for governors and principals to bend or break the rules without anyone intervening at an early stage".

The changes it proposes "we believe will carry the support of all those involved in further education."

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