FE colleges call for 'light touch' in post-16 reform

1st February 2013 at 00:00
Consultation also reveals concerns over two-tiered regional structures

FE colleges in Scotland have called for a "light touch" approach from government in a consultation response to the post-16 education bill.

Colleges Scotland said it was "essential that colleges remain autonomous bodies", able to adapt to the needs of their local area and work efficiently.

As colleges were largely publicly funded, there had to be clear lines of accountability, the response said. But this should not mean increased planning control through the government, the Scottish Funding Council and the regional board; nor should it involve extra bureaucratic layers in multi-college regions, Colleges Scotland chief executive John Henderson told TESS.

Its most significant concerns about the bill related to the "two-tier" nature of the proposed regional strategic bodies and their constituent colleges. It had fewer concerns around the proposals for regional colleges.

"The establishment of regional strategic bodies sees a significant shift in powers for funding, strategic approach and the ability of college boards within the region to manage their staff and assets," Colleges Scotland said.

The potential power of regional strategic boards to decide issues around finances, assets, liabilities or "obligations of assigned colleges as it would determine" could present "significant issues for the assigned college - in meeting its obligations as an employer, in balancing its finances and in provision for its area and learners".

The paper also raises concerns about possible staff transfers between colleges in a region, as well as plans for the membership of regional boards, which, as they stand, would not guarantee full membership for all constituent colleges.

The "light touch" approach of outcome agreements between the Scottish Funding Council and colleges was the preferred option for the sector and represented an appropriate relationship between "the funder and the delivery agent", Mr Henderson said, or there was a risk of putting in "different layers of planning control".

Government plans to record the activity of all young people centrally and share data with Skills Development Scotland "could be more difficult and costly to achieve" than expected, Colleges Scotland warned.

julia.belgutay@tess.co.uk.

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