Beware rushing in a funding model that is too simplistic

29th May 2009 at 01:00

It was somewhat ironic (if not downright irritating) to read the proposals on funding from the new leader of the Learning and Skills Council, given the background from which he has emerged ("Performance criteria to decide funding allocation", FE Focus, May 15). I hardly think that the public sector is going to be too willing to listen to outcome- focused approaches from someone steeped in the financial sector.

The reported approaches were naive and patronising and could only have come from someone with little knowledge of the sector. Does he (Geoff Russell) really think that the post-compulsory sector has been allowed to drift, by government, the funding bodies, colleges and their staff and leaders, in a world where improving retention and success at an ever- increasing level of efficiency have not been central to their agenda?

There are dangers in rushing in a model of funding that is too simplistic. I am a great believer in targets for learners and for colleges, but all targets have to come with a health warning - otherwise they distort behaviour and move organisations away from their underlying beliefs and values.

Beware, too, the law of unintended consequences when putting forward ideas that seem to have common-sense credibility.

If you punish providers too much when learners do not all achieve, they will not take any risks when recruiting. If a potential level 3 learner has an 80 per cent chance of success, why take the risk? Why not put that person on a level 2 course, knowing they will succeed and can progress to level 3? That's great for success and progression data, but it will take twice as long and twice the cost to achieve the outcome. Where is the value for money then?

Think, too, about those who are at the bottom end of the educational ladder or have a range of disadvantages. How will their entitlement be met if no one dares take them on for fear of failure?

If he wants a genuinely needs-based funding system, perhaps he should consider the need to do something about disparity of pay and conditions between FE and schools, or the needs of adult learners for affordable provision, or the retraining needs of those affected by the current economic climate, largely precipitated by the financial sector.

George Arkless, Independent consultant and trainer.

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