Colleges set for self-policing

30th April 2004 at 01:00
A national body modelled on the BMA , may help further education institutions reduce bureaucracy. Ian Nash reports

Ministers are expected to give colleges powers to police themselves under the regulation of a national body with the authority of the British Medical Association and the Law Society.

Far-reaching plans for self-regulation - to be unveiled next month - have been seen by Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, who is understood to be willing to approve them.

The proposal is the central recommendation in the final report of the Learning and Skills Council bureaucracy-busting task force. The committee, chaired by Sir George Sweeney, principal of Knowsley college, was created in 2002, following a 15-month campaign by the TES and Association of Colleges to cut red tape.

Sir George's report will also call for the creation of a single health and safety validation body for the learning and skills sector. This would cut through bureaucratic regulations for colleges, adult education and state-funded private training groups.

The report will check on the progress of 40 bureaucracy-cutting measures recommended by the task force. Sir George will also announce further "pathfinder" colleges to pilot recommendations in the LSC report, Trust in FE.

Scrutiny of red tape continues under a group, chaired by Sir Andrew Foster, which was created last year, following task-force recommendations.

But the most radical reform is the call for self-regulation. Sources in the Department for Education and Skills told FE Focus: "The department can support colleges regulating themselves because, if they are, they do not need the parent-child relationship."

This was a reference to the desire to distance activities of colleges further from the LSC. Since Mark Haysom's arrival as chief executive of the council, the slimming down of the internal bureaucracy has been accelerated, with planned cuts of 800 jobs. The council has also been organised around nine regions along the lines of the regional development agencies and DfES standards unit. Ministers are considering merging the three agencies within three years.

Sir Anthony Greener, Qualifications and Curriculum Authority Chairman, recently accused ministers of wasting millions in duplicate organisations and strategies.

The AoC is the organisation that is likely to be given the self-regulating BMA-style powers. It would mean the association getting tough with colleges, the departmental source said. "There is concern about how few people knew about the probity issues around recent problem colleges such as Sandwell. We are saying to the AoC and Association of Learning Providers: 'your governors should be leading on this'." Sir George was due to step down as an LSC council member this month but has agreed to remain in his post at Mr Clarke's request.

The Education Secretary this week announced five new LSC appointments.

Frances O'Grady, deputy general secretary of the TUC, replaces John Monks as TUC representative on the national council, to which Gareth Cadwallader, Sector Skills Development Agency board member, and Ian Ferguson, chair of Data Connections, have also been appointed.

Lord David Trefgarne, chairman of SEMTA, the sector skills council for science, engineering and manufacturing technologies, is joining the adult learning committee. Robert Bischof, chair of McIntyre amp; King, is joining the Young People's learning committee.

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