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Ten held up as beacons;FE Focus

In a speech praising the sector David Blunkett names the colleges others must aspire to be. George Low reports

TEN top colleges have been named as beacons of excellence by David Blunkett in a celebration of further education which, he said, deserves to come out of the shadows.

But the Education Secretary's praise for what he called the Cinderella service was tempered by the shaming of six of the country's worst colleges.

Taking control of the launch of the first beacon colleges from Baroness Blackstone, minister of further and higher education, Mr Blunkett said: "We are celebrating what is working well in FE, we must sing about it, but we must also remember what still needs to be done to raise the profile of FE."

He praised the beacon colleges which will each receive pound;50,000 of extra funding from the standards fund to spread good practice and told them he would expect them to help weaker brethren in their area.

Mr Blunkett's speech, at the launch in Lewisham College, set out the criteria for beacon status: those which had received at least five top grades in a Further Education Funding Council inspection andor those which had demonstrated effective self-assessment and quality control procedures; consistent achievement of targets and ability to address weaknesses; improved student performance.

"Ministers may pay special attention to excellent colleges which serve communities with high levels of social and economic deprivation," Mr Blunkett said, adding that more beacon colleges would be named later in the year.

While her boss was handing out praise and money, Baroness Blackstone was distributing badges of shame. In addition to the crisis-ridden Bilston College, in Wolverhampton, and Wirral College, in Birkenhead, she named Matthew Boulton, Birmingham; Ealing Tertiary College, west London; West Cumbria College, Workington, and the Isle of Wight College. All received FEFC reports that revealed serious weaknesses.

"The Government expects these colleges to set out plans for improving their standards," she said. "If these are acceptable to the FEFC, they will be able to draw on the new FE standards fund."

Inspectors at West Cumbria College described weak management and governance, patchy tutorial support, inadequate quality assurance and widespread student absenteeism and drop-outs. Much the same weaknesses were revealed at Matthew Boulton, where ineffective management and governors had had a direct impact on student pass rates and attendance.

The only FEcollege on the Isle of Wight has been told to improve management information, target- setting and strategic planning. The inspectors found the managers had unrealistic expectations.

Ealing was castigated for over-ambition after a failed merger attempt. Despite good resources, the college management had too high an opinion of their strengths and failed to spot weaknesses.

Baroness Blackstone made it clear that other colleges would follow the first six onto the roll of dishonour in the coming months.

David Gibson, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said they welcomed the tone of the Secretary of State's remarks, which showed that "praising and raising" were as important as "naming and shaming".

Baroness Blackstone, 33

THE SHINING LIGHTS

Park Lane College

Leeds

Lewisham College

south-east London

Carmel sixth-form college

St Helens

Greenhead sixth-form college

Huddersfield

Havering College

Hornchurch, Essex

St Charles Catholic sixth-form college

Kensington, west London

Bishop Burton agricultural college

Beverley, East Yorkshire

John Leggott sixth-form college Scunthorpe; Blackpool and Fylde College

Lancashire;

Knowsley College

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