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Retrospective guidelines are unjustifiable

An article in The TES on October 18 referred to the Further Education Funding Council's forthcoming circular on a fixed tariff for individual national vocational qualifications according to method of delivery. The article also pointed out that the guidance will be issued retrospectively for 199697.

The Sheffield College has been attempting to gain detailed clarification of the FEFC's approach to the appropriate load banding for NVQs, in particular in relation to accredited prior learning. The only advice we have received from the FEFC on this subject is that the appropriate load band is to be arrived at following agreement with external auditors and detailed discussions followed on that basis. The understanding arrived at with our external auditors has been applied by the college and has also been used in negotiating contracts for 199697.

You may imagine our surprise upon reading this article when we had received no indication from the FEFC that this was likely to happen or that it would relate to 199697. I do not agree with my colleague from Broxtowe College that colleges should "read the tea leaves" to ensure they avoid future difficulty. This is an absurd way to expect any organisation to run a business and the FEFC has had sufficient time to consider all these points and to have included them in Circular 9606.

Changes in guidelines during the year are bad enough but to make such guidelines retrospective cannot be justified on any grounds. To bring out guidelines that will affect the commercial operation of a college and the funding that that college may achieve by changing the tariff at the end of October, once contracts have been negotiated and agreed, is unreasonable, unfair and unacceptable.

What the sector needs is fairness in allocation and stability in process; this unhappy affair illustrates neither.

K RUDDIMAN Principal and chief executive The Sheffield College Sheffield

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