Carrots and sticks for better performance

22nd May 2009 at 01:00

In just over a month's time, towards the end of June, we can all spend our evenings online, checking just how good - or bad - our colleges really are at educating and training people.

With the publication of qualification success rates and learner destinations, we ought to be able to compare accurately the ability of colleges to get students successfully to the end of their courses and find out what these qualifications did for them in terms of opening more educational doors or landing them jobs.

If it works - and there still appear to be some issues surrounding the calculation of success rates as part of the Framework for Excellence (page 3) - this will mark a turning point for colleges, and perhaps also a new chapter in the public's relationship with further education.

League tables will surely be created from the performance indicators, bringing FE providers into line with the school and university sectors, which have had (some would say "suffered") them for years.

Many in the sector see league tables as counterproductive. However, if FE wants to swap its Cinderella existence for the red carpet, then providers must accept that they will be assessed, measured and possibly even ranked.

Despite the downsides, experience shows that most of us enjoy a good league table, and the likelihood is that FE providers will be no different, especially those that do well.

One of the biggest prizes for colleges is the promise that the framework will enable a direct comparison between the educational performance of colleges and school sixth forms. At present, they are measured in different ways so that schools tend to appear more successful than colleges.

Colleges rightly worry that such comparisons may not be possible for another two years, by which time local authorities will likely control funding for all 14-19 education. This could leave them in a potentially weak position compared with supposedly higher-performing schools.

The other major concern is the possible use of the indicators to inform future funding decisions across FE. Geoff Russell, the new chief of the Learning and Skills Council, has already said that poorly performing colleges can expect their funding to be cut and given to high-achieving providers.

The framework promises to offer incentives for better performance across the sector. The extent to which it doubles as a stick with which to beat it remains to be seen.

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