Hand-outs of up to pound;700,000 should not be seen as rewards for inefficiency, reports Harvey McGavin
FAILING colleges are in line for massive cash injections under plans published today by the Further Education Funding Council.
The announcement means that the bottom 10 per cent of colleges - heavily criticised by funding chiefs and ministers for their shortcomings - will now each be eligible for up to pound;700,000 from the Government's standards fund.
Around pound;10 million out of the pound;35 million fund has been earmarked for "colleges causing concern", but only the largest will be able to claim the maximum amount.
The fund will also distribute money under three other "strands" - for post-inspection support, professional development of senior staff and governors, and dissemination of good practice. The FEFC said the allocation "reflects its wish to reverse at the earliest opportunity any trend of deteriorating performance".
Chief inspector Jim Donaldson said he wanted to avoid accusations that the funding council was rewarding inefficient and poor-quality provision. He said: "We think it is important that colleges causing concern are given additional funds to take forward improvement strategies."
He denied that the extra money was an acknowledgement of underfunding, and said that some colleges had problems which could not be addressed through the usual funding methodology. Efficiency savings had placed "enormous demands" on some colleges in the past five or six years, and the standards fund payments would enable them to address problem areas.
Payments - ranging from pound;50,000 for the smallest institutions to pound;700,000 for big colleges with the lowest inspection grades and poorest retention and achievement rates - will only be made in response to detailed, costed action plans.
Another pound;5 million from the standards fund will be directed at staff development for principals, aspiring principals and governors. The good governance group, set up in February after high-profile failures at colleges such as Halton and Wirral Metropolitan, has recommended that part of the money goes towards induction packs for new governors and to enhance quality control.
The FEFC have been in discussion with the Association of Colleges, the Association of Principals of Colleges and the fledgling Further Education National Training Organisation over training programmes for around 100 top managers which it says "will be of high status, akin to the civil service top management programme".
Another pound;5 million will go towards post-inspection support, up to a maximum of pound;40,000 per college and pound;10 million has been set aside for the fourth strand of the initiative, to disseminate good practice.
Around 100 institutions -accredited and beacon colleges and those with at least one top inspection grade 1 - will be able to bid for a share of this money, up to a maximum of pound;200,000. Funding can be used to spread awareness and understanding of strategies to improve performance in retention, achievement, widening participation, quality assurance, management information systems and student support.
The FEFC is keen to attract collaborative proposals from groups of colleges, but stresses that the list is "not exhaustive" and applications on a range of issues will be considered.
Jim Donaldson said: "The use of the standards fund is vital to raising quality and standards in the sector.
"The way we are planning to allocate funds takes careful account of all those who need help, and benefits those who are doing well. It also encourages colleges to improve and share their experience with others."