A CONSULTANTS' report commissioned by the Scottish Executive on the way further education colleges are run has concluded that standards are "relatively good" - but then admits that they were not in a position to verify it.
On the basis of that limited endorsement, Ian Macpherson, chairman of the Association of Scottish Colleges, said: "We are very pleased to see this report recognising the high standards of governance that have been established and maintained."
Howard McKenzie, principal of Jewel and Esk Valley College and vice-chairman of the ASC, said: "While there have recently been public examples of individual issues with management and governance, the report shows that these examples are the exception and not the norm."
The report, by DTZ Consulting and Research, gives college accountability and governance an overall rating of "good," although practice ranges from average to very good. But it concedes that "the actual calibre of governance displayed by board members is difficult to determine from an assessment of this kind".
It acknowledged that "DTZ is not in a position to provide a definitive assessment of accountability and governance across Scotland's colleges as our work has been based on a limited sample of colleges and self-assessment by college chairs".
The report cautioned against reading too much into the eight case studies and applying the findings to all 39 incorporated colleges.
The consultants, whose work was part of the Scottish Executive's overall review of FE colleges, nonetheless believe they saw enough to recommend that more needs to be done to bring on new board members as part of "succession planning"; provide in-depth induction to improve training for board members; ensure members give more of their time to their board work; and enhance the quality of information given to boards.
DTZ says there is a "thin" market for good calibre board members, which requires much more attention to be paid to the way they are recruited, trained and deployed. It found that boards had a good skills mix and an extensive range of business experience. Contrary to some claims, boards provide "constructive challenge" to the principal and senior management.
The consultants repeatedly underline the crucial role played by board chairs, and recommend further investigation into whether chairs of boards and their sub-committees should be paid.
The report said the role of college audit committees in dealing with risk management was "absolutely critical", and good practice should be disseminated throughout the FE sector. It recommends a separate risk register in colleges where significant capital projects introduce a new element of risk.