Colleges are finding themselves overwhelmed by a bewildering array of performance checks. Harvey McGavin reports
Inspections are putting an increasing burden on colleges, with some facing scrutiny from up to five different authorities.
As well as regular check-ups by the Further Education Funding Council and the Training Standards Council, many colleges are now inspected by the Office for Standards in Education, the New Deal and the Quality Assurance Authority, which looks at higher education courses.
The varying demands of different inspection regimes are putting a strain on colleges' resources, according to research by the Further Education Development Agency.
Seventy two per cent of the 125 colleges surveyed by the agency said they have to prepare separate pre-inspection reports and only 4 per cent thought their self-assessment process could meet the requirements of five inspectorates. But the report says: "Most (colleges) report difficulty even in developing an integrated process which serves the needs of the different inspection frameworks to which they are subject."
Despite their intention to work together, the FEFC and TSC had jointly inspected only five of the colleges surveyed. However, a further two colleges said they had asked not to be inspected jointly because of the added pressure of preparation.
Separate information frameworks were cited as the main cause of difficulty by 53 per cent of those surveyed, followed by separate inspectorates (20 per cent) continual changes in requirements (11 per cent) and the involvement of third parties such as training and enterprise councils (8 per cent).
The report concludes: "The existence of separate inspectorates and separate inspection frameworks is a cause of considerable extra work for institutions."
Chris Hughes, the agency's chief executive said: "This research backs up the Further Education Development Agency's call for an independent inspection body to cover the work currently done by the FEFC and Training Standards Council. It would put an end to the need for colleges to juggle the conflicting demands of up to four different inspectorates. And the inspection body itself would have more of the information it needs to to give comprehensive advice on standards across the new sector."
* Governance, management and quality assurance at East Devon College are all less than satisfactory according to Further Education Funding Council inspectors.
Weaknesses outweighed strengths in three areas of cross-college provision and one curriculum area - humanities - at the Tiverton college.
The college's self-assessment report was "a poor document" and failed to mention key weaknesses. Inspectors marked down the college's grades in seven of the 10 areas inspected, judging 60 per cent of lessons good or outstanding compared to the college's figure of 82 per cent.
The college does offer some good teaching and achievements on some courses are above the national average. But an 18-month delay in appointing a new principal, led to a period of "uncertain leadership", the report notes, and its financial management, although improving, is "weak".
The report concludes the college "needs to address key issues, including declining enrolments and small class sizes".