Poor score for grading system
Three out of four college leaders think a new system for grading FE providers will do nothing to improve standards, a newly published survey shows.
The survey of 61 principals and senior managers, carried out by QDP Services, showed that 77 per cent thought the Framework for Excellence scheme would fail to improve standards.
The QDP survey, carried out during the Association of Colleges conference in November, found that 59 per cent of respondents thought the framework was not useful as a measure of success; nearly 75 per cent thought it was unlikely to last as an initiative.
Under the framework - designed to allow providers to measure their performance against that of others and help them improve - the Learning and Skills Council will grade colleges as outstanding, good, satisfactory or inadequate. This will be based on surveys of learners and employers, the providers' financial records, evidence of progression to further study or employment and Ofsted inspections.
The council has said the grades will be taken into account by funders when commissioning courses from 2010-11, although they will not be used in isolation to make funding decisions.
An earlier survey of 1,053 providers by the LSC found that 80 per cent thought the framework would improve performance and 85 per cent said it would be a useful measurement tool.
But Rick Phillips, a director of QDP, said: "They are not connecting with their audience at all. If this was a college report, they would have shut the college."
QDP also found that 80 per cent of respondents thought the relationship between the framework and the inspection system was unclear. The LSC will use Ofsted inspections of college effectiveness as part of its gradings; in turn, Ofsted plans to use framework grades to decide which providers are in urgent need of inspection and to decide inspection ratings.
Jan Leivers, performance standards manager at Loughborough College, which piloted the framework last year, said it gathered information the college had already been collecting but was useful for benchmarking. "As a tool to look at performance we have no problems with the elements of it," she said.
She said the main area of contention among the pilot organisations was how the LSC arrived at the scores it gave.
Lesley Davies, director of Framework for Excellence and quality at the LSC, said the council had commissioned a five-year evaluation of the framework. "There is still some way to go before the framework for excellence is fully developed, and we continue to work closely with colleges, providers and other stakeholders to ensure that the developed framework will be fit for purpose."
The LSC said it would provide colleges with as much data as it could while protecting the confidence of learners and employers.
Leader, page 4.