Reforms to spell end of red tape

14th May 2004 at 01:00
A self-policing college body must be tough to work, says the bureaucracy task force. Ian Nash reports

A proposed regulatory body for colleges and training companies must be prepared to discipline and if necessary expel members, Sir George Sweeney, chairman of the bureaucracy task force, says in his final report published today.

Far-reaching recommendations in the report to make colleges self-regulating under the authority of an organisation akin to the British Medical Association or the Law Society were revealed in FE Focus two weeks ago. The final report published today, warns that without such a body, the Learning and Skills Council will have difficulty in making further cuts in red tape.

The organisation would set the ethical and training standards for all lecturers and managers. The report follows a 15-month campaign waged against bureaucracy by The TES and the Association of Colleges.

Sir George also confirms this week that the existing representative bodies should prepare to take over the reins. "The real challenge in achieving a system of self-regulation is to ourselves," he says in his foreword to the report, which stresses that the Government wants greater self-regulation.

"Representative bodies that speak on behalf of the sector - including the AoC and the Association of Learning Providers - should now take the lead in developing this agenda in close co-operation with other organisations with leadership responsibilities in the sector. The time is right for this radical development."

Considerable gains had been made, particularly for colleges, since the task force first recommended a new approach. Those gains would be extended to adult education and work-based training in the future, says the report.

"But the LSC cannot just pretend risks have gone away because of changes such as plan-led funding and other simplification of funding. If it has to continue to take account of and minimise these risks, we will not reach the point where audit burdens are comparable with, for example, the higher education sector."

Under self-regulation, the professional body would control ethical standards, give training and support, issue guidance on work levels and police standards. "Action includes disciplining or expelling members," the report says. "Government largely trusts self-regulating professions such as law, medicine and accountancy to keep their own houses in order. The professional bodies are allowed to both regulate themselves and represent their own interests."

The recommendations amount to a challenge to the AoC and other representative groups to reshape and take on the bigger role. "In essence, the LSC cannot further cut audit requirements at the moment, but if providers were demonstrably self-regulating, it could in future," says the report.

"The greater the degree and effectiveness of self-regulation the less the LSC would have to do. The LSC could not impose self-regulation, but it could commit itself to the idea and recognise its successful implementation by withdrawing LSC scrutiny in proportion to what had been done.

"Self-regulation is open to all. It is, however, only providers themselves that can make it happen. This might be through professional associations such as the AoC, ALP and HOLEX, the local adult learning providers'

network."

Alternatively, it might involve the creation of a separate body, as with the General Medical Council, if this helped give clear separation between representation of interests and upholding standards.

The task force report makes 14 recommendations to improve trust, openness and accountability between the LSC and colleges.

It calls for more "pathfinder" colleges to test the lighter-touch rules for inspection and audit, and freedom from "binding" contracts for colleges with a proven track record in managing budgets.

The LSC should drop the barriers which prevent more people taking up and completing modern apprenticeships.

The report also calls for better links with schools, more integrated planning for the new 14-19 curriculum and a complete review of adult and community education.

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