A battle for hearts and minds throughout the further education sector began this week as the first phase of a strategy to improve quality was launched.
The Learning and Skills Improvement Service has promised "personalised" consultation on its statement of strategic direction, which was published this week.
In addition to the standard forms of response by letter and email, the LSIS is offering a series of consultation events, including regional meetings and workshops, that it hopes will encourage greater input from the sector.
The improvement service has said that everything in the strategy document is open to consultation.
"We are launching this as the beginning of a long-term strategic conversation on structure," said Roger McClure, its chief executive. "It is part of a continuing thread of discussion, month by month, year by year."
The document sets out a two-part vision. The first focuses on the FE sector and how it can develop systems of self-regulation and self- improvement.
The second is about LSIS, what kind of organisation it is and what its role should be.
"The whole point about self- regulation is that, as a sector, we have to take ownership of it and believe in what we are doing," Mr McClure said. This will take time. It is about winning hearts and minds and this will not happen overnight."
The strategy is further divided into two broad themes (see box, below). The first is about developing staff and professionalism in FE and the second about developing the sector's capacity to improve.
Within the first theme there are three aims: embedding a culture of quality in every provider; improving governance, leadership and management; and ensuring equality, equity and respect for all.
There are four aims in the second theme: to achieve mutual support and collaboration; to gain national and international recognition for teaching and learning; to be trusted by government and the public to set and assess its own standards of performance; and to co-ordinate and collaborate with other services to deliver social and economic priorities.
Into these are woven two cross-cutting themes: innovation, and the use of expertise from within the sector. These reinforce all the aims.
The strategy also sets out a manifesto for LSIS, which took over the lead role in revising and renewing the national improvement strategy for FE from the Quality Improvement Agency when it merged with the Centre for Excellence and Leadership last year.
The LSIS wants to be an exemplar organisation that will "constantly test and push the boundaries", as well as being a trustworthy friend and supporter to the sector.
It is proposed that the service will develop new commissioning and funding methods to help the sector improve. This will result in the creation of centres of expertise, physical and virtual, that will give FE governors and staff access to the latest research and information on leadership, management and performance improvement.
For those providers identified by Ofsted as underperforming, or which identify themselves as having problems, the service promises to respond swiftly.
This may involve marshalling the appropriate expertise from within the FE sector and making it available to underperforming providers, often in place of commercial consultants.
The LSIS plans to measure success in achieving its strategic goals by the success of the sector in raising quality and improving standards.
"The measure of success of our vision will be the success of the sector as a whole.
"I want it to be unclear what is LSIS and what is the sector," Mr McClure said.
The consultation invites people to say whether they think the proposed direction best serves the sector, where adjustment needs to be made, what is missing and what should go. It also asks for ideas that can be included at the next stage.
The LSIS council will be asked to give consent to the strategy on March 12. The LSIS board is expected to approve proposals for the full corporate plan on March 26. It should be finalised by July 16.
- LSIS consultation events are taking place in Bristol on February 17, central London on February 20, and Leeds on February 23. For details of times and venues, see www.lsis.org.uk
LSIS has developed its strategy paper in tandem with the national improvement strategy. A separate consultation on the core principles of the NIS ends on February 27.
Working with providers to develop their staff and their professionalism
Innovation and maximising the use of sector expertise
Aim 1: A quality culture centred on the learner
Aim 2: Excellence in governance, leadership and management
Aim 3: Equality, equity and respect for all
Working with providers to develop their capacity to improve
Aim 4: Raising performance through mutual support and collaboration
Aim 5: National and international recognition for creativity and innovation
Aim 6: Winning government and public trust over standards
Aim 7: Engaging with and contributing to communities and social and economic priorities.