Man shaping FE's future tells ministers and college chiefs to brace themselves for radical proposals. Ian Nash reports.
A question mark hangs over the quality of college management according to Sir Andrew Foster - the man charged with carrying out the biggest-ever government inquiry into further education.
It is one of three issues expected to dominate his eagerly-awaited final report which comes out in three weeks. The report will also focus on the purpose of colleges and standards of staff training.
Sir Andrew, former head of the Audit Commission, told FE Focus that problems affecting the reputation of colleges, quality of learning, governance and the overall drive to improve all follow on from these three central problems.
Sir Andrew, speaking at the TES Learning and Skills Symposium this week, promised radical proposals in his report and said people must be prepared for significant changes, including the Government, the Learning and Skills Council and colleges.
His report will reveal a history of a sector which has faced ever-increasing demands, "one thing being laid on another and another", with no clear rationale or purpose being considered. No single organisation was to blame for the shortcomings of FE, he said, nor were there any simple answers.
He said: "There is no single bullet solution. No one key to open the door.
The position we are in results from a cumulative history of institutions being brought together in a particular way. This cannot be turned around overnight. We will need a lot of work over time."
It is not expected that Sir Andrew's final report will recommend any single institutional model for colleges. Rather, it will urge colleges to sell themselves on the back of simpler messages about what they are good at.
It is the first time the role and purpose of FE has been examined in such detail. Even so, it is expected that the report will run to no more than 70 pages.
He said: "The question is how you build on value that is already there. How you optimise that value. My recommendations will be about how you clarify purpose, move on and try to be constructive about the future.
"But there are hundreds of pages of evidence we have worked through in an attempt to look systematically at the need for change."
The TES symposium in London focused on four themes at the heart of Sir Andrew's report: values, purpose, leadership and esteem and reputation.
Three months ago, he set 10 key questions. He asked what the precise purpose of colleges was, how they could improve their reputation, what the role of governors was, how colleges might develop vocational training and how best to lead the sector.
He said: "One thing has been laid on another in this sector without a clear view of what is its centrality of purpose. Questions around centrality of purpose remain. I have not changed my mind on that.
"How the management and accountability system works is a very important question. Also, there is the issue of how well you are doing in terms of workforce development."
The overwhelming majority of people and organisations giving evidence agreed that these were the priorities, he said, adding: "I would say 75 per cent felt that those questions were on target and that things needed doing about them."
Other speakers at the TES symposium were Bill Rammell, further and higher education minister, Lord Richard Layard, director of the London School of Economics centre for economic performance, and Nick Pearce, director of the Institute of Public Policy Research.
A full report will be published on the web at www.fefocus.co.uk next Friday, October 21.