Colleges fear their reputations will be damaged because of unexpected changes to a key performance indicator in the emerging Framework for Excellence.
Principals were surprised last week when they found that the Learning and Skills Council had made changes to the scoring of colleges' qualification success rates (QSRs), one of eight performance indicators in the framework.
The points awarded for the successful completion of long qualifications at levels 1-3 have almost halved, resulting in a change of final performance grade for some colleges. The Association of Colleges says this means some drop from the good category to satisfactory or from satistactory to inadequate.
Success rates are one of the two areas that will be published nationally by the LSC in the summer, allowing people to compare colleges.
Joy Mercer, senior policy manager at the AoC, said: "This is a huge reputational issue for colleges. Everyone in the country will be able see and compare the scores."
Ms Mercer said that many colleges only fully realised that changes had been made when the LSC allowed them to log on to the Provider Gateway at the end of last week. The gateway contains individual colleges' indicators, allowing them to check and compare the LSC's results with their calculations.
The initial methodology for the QSR calculation was set out in a provider guide published in September last year with an update in February, neither detailing the specific changes revealed last week.
"The main issue is that communication of this change came too late," Ms Mercer said. "The LSC has said that it did not think it has made much difference, but we are looking at a number of colleges where it has made a difference and many may still not be aware of the change."
Details of the latest changes in the QSR calculation are set out in a framework outputs guide that was published on Tuesday. It also details changes in assessment criteria to two other performance indicators: learner views and employer views.
Lesley Davies, director of Framework for Excellence and Quality at the LSC, said there was still time to appeal and the LSC would look into every case raised. She said she would be happy to discuss issues with principals. The deadline for appeals is June 2.
"All of these are not yet in the public domain. Colleges have until the end of the month to notify us of any queries on the data and we have had very few so far," she said.
Ms Davies was keynote speaker at a conference yesterday on the framework and its implications for college governance. A guide for governors was launched at the conference. Ms Davies said the framework would provide a useful suite of tools that would save them time and help with strategic decision-making.
Editorial, page 6
Governors, pages 4-5.