Managers in England are confident that colleges will "thrive" and that students will get a better deal in the new era of learning and skills, according to a survey by the Association for College Management and The TES. There are few signs of the siege mentality that blighted earlier post-16 reforms.
But managers are still looking to the Learning and Skills Council to remove certain hurdles. Excessive paperwork and the demands for information that mushroomed under the Further Education Funding Council must be cut drastically, they say.
About two-thirds of association members said that learners would benefit from the changes, while only one in five was pessimistic; there was similar optimism about colleges being able to "thrive" under the new regime.
Nadine Cartner, the association's education officer, said: "There is a clear understanding that the new environment offers opportunities for colleges. There is a hard-headed recognition that top-quality learning opportunities will be the best guarantee of success."
But poor pay and its impact on recruitment, retention and staff morale continue to be a source of anxiety, Cartner said. She added: "Excessive bureaucracy that soaks up resources and diverts them from the core business of helping learners succeed is another source of anxiety."
There is strong resentment over what is seen as the dominating influence of industry. Cartner said: "Many respondents are still sore bout the perceived wholesale transfer of TEC (training and enterprise council ) people into the local LSCs." A small majority felt that the transition was unlikely to be smooth and expressed concern that the LSC had not left enough time to prepare. "What comes across strongly is the sense that managers are taking on the challenge of building a successful future for their institutions and their learners," said Cartner. Of the 290 respondents in the survey, many said they believed that colleges were best placed to take the lead in the new age of learning and skills.
Reg Chapman, principal of Blackpool and the Fylde College, said: "The ambitions of the LSC are those most people came into FE for. We just have to make sure we deliver them."
Ruth Silver, principal of Lewisham College, said: "Colleges will thrive because we are the most stable part of the new system."
Others were more wary of the rushed transition, including Russell Woodrow, principal of Stanmore College.
"There is likely to be a severe shortage of staff with an adequate knowledge of further education in the offices of the Learning and Skills Council - both nationally and locally - for some considerable time to come," he said.
HOW THE ACM MEMBERS RESPONDED: QUESTIONS
Will transition to LSC be relatively smooth? Yes 46% No 54%
Will learners benefit substantially? Yes 65% No 22%
Will colleges thrive? Yes 59% No 30%