Time for unity to show we can run our affairs

6th February 2009 at 00:00

In recent months we have talked much about self-regulation and self- improvement. However, we need a common understanding of what self- regulation means for all who work within the sector.

On one hand, self-improvement is a process of continuous improvement, owned and driven by the institution itself; on the other, self-regulation must be sector-owned. This is evident from recognising the collective reputation of the sector is as significant as individual institutional merit. This will mean tackling underperformance, ensuring our standards are stretching and we are all willing to demonstrate accountability.

Self-regulation is, therefore, a mechanism for the sector to show it is capable of managing and improving services to learners within a framework of public accountability. It provides the opportunity to demonstrate we are a mature sector that can be trusted to manage our own affairs.

This does not mean there is no place for external scrutiny. Any agency responsible for commissioning education and training from the public purse rightly needs to prove it is buying from high quality, well managed institutions. External scrutiny is also a way to enhance sector credibility and reputation.

Effective governance is also important. However, I believe effective leadership is the core of self-regulation. A board's role is to appoint the best leaders and allow them to lead. Governors must hold managers to account for maintaining and improving standards, as it is their job to steer their organisation towards self-improvement.

However, considering the complexity of the FE and skills training sector, not every organisation will be ready to embrace all aspects of self- regulation at the same time. An incremental approach, in which the stronger and more mature organisations act as mentors, may be the way forward.

In my view, self-regulation comprises three elements. First, we need a single overarching regulatory framework, relevant to every provider within the sector. Different bodies responsible, such as Ofsted and the Learning and Skills Council, should map existing quality and performance assurance frameworks so we can jointly develop a single set of standards that everyone must meet. As the sector improves, so must these standards.

Second, as a sector, we must demonstrate we are willing and able to deal with our own underperformance. Using resources within the sector, we must identify and support those who fail to meet our minimum standard. The Learning and Skills Improvement Service, with its local, regional and national knowledge, would be ideally placed to perform this role.

Third, we must not allow self-regulation to become a measure of minimum standards. We must demonstrate our capacity to develop and promote excellence. I believe there is a need for a professional body (or similar) to encourage and motivate providers towards excellence. Not every provider will be ready to join such a body from the outset, but providers should aspire to become members.

Self-regulation will only work if we speak with one voice. We, as leaders, must present a positive, forward-thinking and united front and demonstrate our capacity not only to lead our own organisations but also provide the leadership for a self-regulated sector. We need to find constructive ways to work with ministers, regulators and funders to achieve our aim. Let's not allow any hurdles, new or old, interrupt our journey.

LSIS is due to publish its strategic intentions consultation document next week.

Asha Khemka, Principal and chief executive, West Nottinghamshire College, Mansfield.

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