Education's top civil servant, Michael Bichard, has warned that retention and achievement targets could put pressure on colleges to keep out less promising students.
The Government's attempt to simultaneously increase retention and achievement could run into problems if further education is expected to play its part in widening access at post-16, MPs were told. Sir Michael, Permanent Secretary at the Department for Education and Employment, was speaking at the Public Accounts Committee on Wednesday.
"Some students will not achieve and some will drop out. We need to be careful that we don't send a message to colleges tht they should avoid taking some of the more difficult students because it might affect their targets."
He said that the learning and skills councils are expected to gather more accurate information than currently exists about retention after they take over from the Further Education Funding Council on April 1.
"One of the things the LSC will want to do is to find out more about why people leave, by using independent exit surveys," he said. He said this will reduce the risk of the LSC being misled by colleges reluctant to admit cases of students who cite poor teaching as a reason for leaving.