Promoting the local imperative

8th October 2004 at 01:00
In your editorial (FEFocus, October 1) you seem to be advocating that colleges simply accept that they are operating arms of the Learning and Skills Council and give up all pretence to independence. It's far more accurate to think of Michael Heseltine nationalising colleges a decade ago than to think that they were "granted independence", but your approach is far too defeatist.

As a governor I think I am partly trying to act for the good of our local communities, however imperfectly.

John Carver, the governance guru who has been so influential in college circles, talks about boards acting "on behalf of some ownership" and I'm very clear that the ownership on whose behalf we are acting is a local one, not national government.

It is, of course, very difficult to turn that theoretical stance into a meaningful reality, especially in such a centralised state as Britain, with a prevailing ideology that national standards must necessarily be higher than local ones.

I don't pretend to have all the answers, but I am very keen to debate how we find a middle way between kowtowing to the LSC and Department for Education and Skills all the time and an inevitably futile push for full independence.

And I'm keen that FE should link arms with the Local Government Association which published a Manifesto for Local Communities last week, with a powerful call for "bold and radical decentralisation".

This isn't pie in the sky. As a very simple first step, I'm keen to see every college at least inform its local community what it does and how people can influence it. Colleges should make some basic information available to local people, most obviously on their websites, such as who the governors are and how to get hold of them, they should provide copies of the current strategy and most recent annual report and accounts, and they should hold an annual public meeting.

Far too few colleges take even this first step.

Iain Mackinnon Governor, Ealing, Hammersmith and West London college

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