Civil service under fire

18th June 2004 at 01:00
FE's bureaucracy tsar calls on the DfES to sort out its act. Steve Hook reports.

Bad management by civil servants rather than red tape is the biggest problem for colleges, according to Sir Andrew Foster, the man appointed to investigate bureaucracy in FE.

The former head of the Audit Commission pulls no punches in his long-awaited diagnosis of the the sector's problems, in which he describes bureaucracy as "a broad synonym for poor management".

Speaking to FE Focus this week, he said he believed improvements in management needed to be made within the Department for Education and Skills.

He said: "This is a high-level review and we have been looking at how the DfES manages things, as well as the work of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and the Office for Standards in Education."

If the quality of management is improved, he says, bureaucracy will fall away.

The DfES should, he says, make a clear statement about its relationship with the Learning and Skills Council which the public can understand.

He said division of responsibilities between the two organisations has not been properly worked out - more than three years after Britain's biggest-spending quango came into existence.

He says the relationship between the LSC national office and its 47 local branches is similarly ill-defined.

Sir Andrew said: "We take bureaucracy to be, in common parlance, a broad synonym for poor management of the system and of provider organisations, and believe that this prompts a fruitful approach to reducing the level of it.

"The way forward is not to adopt the narrower approach of shortening forms and streamlining administrative processes but to modernise management to the highest standards.

"There is huge staff commitment in the sector from good quality personnel who wish to make a difference by offering learners new and valuable skills.

"Enhancing trust in the staff and empowering them to use their judgment and discretion stands a substantial chance of developing their commitment.

"What is needed is a further injection of leadership, strategy, staff motivation and trust, alongside funding linked to strategy and performance management."

While management itself needs to improve, the report nevertheless goes on to call for a number of structural reforms which would make life easier for colleges.

It says that, over the next 12 months, an integrated inspection regime should be introduced, reducing the amount of scrutiny by 25 per cent. Joint inspections are carried out by Ofsted and the Adult Learning Inspectorate.

The ALI also carries out its own inspections. Sir Andrew predicts reducing inspection would lead to a reduction in staffing.

He said: "A sure way of reducing administrative activity is to reduce the numbers available to do it, and to make sure that effort and staffing are focused on the key objectives of improving choice, standards and access, and engaging employers."

The report calls for a single pool of management data to be set up in the next year, with the amount of information being collected from colleges to be reduced by 40 per cent over the same period.

If colleges are asked to provide information to inspectors, awarding bodies and other organisations they should be given a clear reason why it is needed, he says.

The report was published at the Learning and Skills Development Agency summer conference on Tuesday.

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