Framework will be a boon if they get it right

9th January 2009 at 00:00

Alarm bells will be ringing at the Learning and Skills Council this week given college leaders' serious concerns about the Framework for Excellence.

Three out of four principals think it will do nothing to improve standards (page 1), which, given that this is the framework's planned party piece, is something of a blow.

What is particularly worrying is that, on the face of it, the framework is a useful development. A unified and robust process for measuring the performance of all providers is the holy grail for many in post-16 education.

Parity of performance measurement would bring tremendous benefits: for learners and employers better able to compare providers and courses; for learning providers who could use it to benchmark and raise quality; for colleges seeking equitable funding with schools.

A framework would also help further education's case for greater autonomy from the state. It is worth noting that while universities' far greater autonomy may be due to their legal and historical status, their independence is reinforced by rigorous self-regulation and internal quality management processes.

A lot is riding on the framework and, to be fair, it is a work in progress. The Learning and Skills Council is working with providers to, as Lesley Davies says, "ensure that the developed framework will be fit for purpose".

The LSC is giving serious consideration to a number of concerns, not least whether it is valid to have a single overarching grade for all providers given their diversity, and whether a financial comparison between providers is justified given the uneven playing field for funding. A report on its deliberations is expected at the end of February.

Developing a framework simple enough to afford comparison between providers and complex enough for a diverse sector is a major challenge. The QDP survey is a timely reminder of the way to go still.

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