Governors driven off by red tape and power cuts

27th May 2005 at 01:00
Bureaucracy is stopping college governors from doing their jobs properly, says the country's public-sector watchdog.

Colleges are finding it increasingly tough to attract and keep effective governors because of the workload they face on top of their day jobs and personal commitments, according to the National Audit Office.

Its study focused on how best to secure "strategic leadership for the learning and skills sector in England". It found that some governing bodies have seen their role and authority undermined due to the influence of the Learning and Skills Council, the quango that provides most of their income.

Governors complain that national guidelines and priorities prevent them from having proper control over colleges. Colleges want "greater flexibility" in the range of people they are allowed to appoint as governors, and are finding it hard to recruit business people, the study found.

Much of the information governors need is "lost in translation" because communications from the LSC tend to go to the principal and are sometimes filtered before reaching the wider board.

The NAO recommended that the LSC should deal directly with governors on key areas of policy and development. It also says the Government and the LSC should continue to look at the possibilities of self-regulation for colleges in the longer term.

The NAO visited six FE colleges, one sixth-form college, six local LSCs and four regional development agencies.

Sir John Bourn, head of the NAO, said: "The learning and skills sector is complex. Getting effective and efficient frameworks in place to support strategic planning and provide reasonable assurance is very challenging.

"The key has to be getting the governance right at local level, and college governors - most of whom are unpaid volunteers - need to be well-supported, including by key influential organisations such as the LSC."

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