Tell him what you want

Stephen Crowne, chief executive of the Further Education Development Agency, sets out his agenda for the future. The Further Education Development Agency seems to have had a long gestation. Its origins lie in the report of a review group established by the FE Funding Council, published as long ago as July 1993. The Funding Council consulted the sector before recommending the creation of FEDA. The Secretary of State appointed the FEDA board last summer and I have been in post since November.

But we are now getting into our stride. We are on target to inherit the staff and assets of the Further Education Unit and Staff College in April, and will be consulting the sector over the summer about priorities for the future.

The review group set up by the Funding Councils found that, although the work of the FEU and Staff College over many years had been respected and valued, there was a consensus about the need for change. There was a widespread view that FE institutions needed more systematic and effective support to help them take full advantage of the opportunities and challenges ahead .

In my short time in the job, I have been struck both by how much is expected of FEDA, and by the great fund of goodwill. FEDA's main aims are to promote quality in teaching and learning, through curriculum development and support for FE institutions; and quality in the management of institutions. We exist to serve colleges, to provide them with the support that they want and need. FEDA is an independent body, standing apart from the Government and the Funding Councils, responsible for setting its own priorities. I want to ensure that FEDA's voice is respected and authoritative, and reflects the day-to-day practical concerns of FE institutions.

We will be building on a strong inheritance from the FEU and Staff College, and will make sure that we provide products and services that FE institutions want and need. We want to develop partnerships that have already been established, and draw in expert practitioners from the sector. We want to be seen as businesslike and responsive, and to embody the good practice that we promote.

FEDA's work programme over the next year or so will be based largely on that inherited from the FEU and Staff College. In that time, we face three key tasks. We need to establish a clear and robust organisational and staffing structure for FEDA, to equip us to deal with the challenges ahead.

We also need to identify the key priorities for future work in close discussion with the main interests, notably the FE institutions themselves, and we need to think about the implications of those priorities, and the way that they are likely to develop, for the longer term structure, location and style of operation of FEDA.

I do not want to pre-empt the results of our consultation. However, we have already begun to think about our very broad remit and will want to look closely at six areas in particular. First, I think that FEDA will want to play a key role in promoting more effective institutional governance. We will want to help governors to discharge their duties effectively.

Second, we want to promote a more systematic approach to senior management development. We need to build on experience at the Staff College, and collaborate with others. There are a good many ideas around. For example, we are looking at the possibility of setting up a programme specifically for newly appointed principals. There is also scope for a prestigious "high fliers" programme, for those with potential to become top managers. We will also want to see what contribution we can make to achieving more thorough-going management development through, for example, more systematic accreditation of development activities.

Third, we want to develop consultancy and other services to help with institutional development. We will explore the scope for services for institutions to help identify and deal with weaknesses and worries. This might be particularly useful for those preparing for inspection.

The recent National Audit Office report on the FE sector raises a number of issues that we want to help colleges respond to. And the new Kennedy Committee will no doubt generate work on strategies to promote participation. FEDA will want to be closely involved in that.

Fourth, we want to explore the prospects for a more systematic approach to the training and development of teaching staff. FEDA, with the FEU and Staff College, is currently leading a project to map the occupations in the FE sector.

If, in the light of our work, ministers decide that there is a need to develop NVQ-type standards for those with a teaching role in FE, we will want to ensure that the construction of those standards and of qualifications based on them builds effectively on existing good practice, and leads to improved accreditation of initial training and continuing professional development.

Fifth, we want to provide more effective support for lecturers dealing with key changes in curricula and assessment. We will want to focus on key areas of change - notably GNVQs, NVQs, and new GCE A-level syllabuses. The interim report of the Higginson Committee provides a substantial agenda for FEDA. We expect the Tomlinson Committee to do the same. The FEU and Staff College have led curriculum research and advice on students with learning difficulties and disabilities, and FEDA intends to build on that strong base.

Finally, we want to provide information that managers and lecturers at all levels would find useful. News bulletins, crisp, punchy reports on current and emerging issues, research reports, and guidance.

This is not a prescriptive agenda. There will be plenty of opportunities in the coming months to contribute to FEDA's thinking about priorities. I hope that we succeed in stimulating debate about the future, and the ways that FEDA can help colleges to deal with the challenges ahead.

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