A new approach to measuring the efficiency of local authority services is to be piloted in adult education by the Audit Commission.
Every local education authority will be required to publish performance figures based on "consumer" assessment of the quality of adult education in England and Wales next year.
Most LEAs carry out some assessment of quality, and many publish annual results. But there is concern at the commission that a significant minority give an inadequate indication of performance.
Paul Vevers, associate director of the Audit Commission, told The TES: "For some time, one of the criticisms levelled at performance indicators is that there is too much concentration on efficiency and cost, and not enough on quality."
The commission proposes two questions for inclusion in LEA consumer feedback forms. Those who fail to include these will have to explain themselves, he said. By "riding on the back" of LEA surveys, the commission aims to keep costs down. "We are anxious not to set up a costly industry in bean-counting. "
Adults who use the service will be asked two questions on what they gained from the course and whether it met their expectations. They will be asked to rank its quality on a scale from one to four.
Mr Vevers admits that the targeting of adult education - while being the easiest area to test new performance indicators - highlights deficiencies in relatively recent legislation.
As a local authority watchdog, the Audit Commission has no powers to require central government-funded FE colleges to carry out such quality measures. But colleges have taken over virtually all the vocational adult courses which attract grants. The LEAs are largely in charge of leisure-time studies.
The Further Education Funding Council is to publish a range of performance indicators for colleges in October. But none of them relate directly to adult education.
A reliable measure of the quality of the whole adult education service would require close co-operation between the FEFC, Audit Commission and LEAs, said Mr Vevers.
Most FE colleges agree that the general public do not distinguish between adult education in colleges and that in LEAs. Many colleges have won contracts to run the full LEA service in a move which has repaired the artificial split created by the 1992 Further and Higher Education Act.
One principal said: "The public is more concerned about the quality than who provides it."