At the Association of Colleges conference, staff reporters tell how Roger Ward faces out calls for his resignation after last week's TES revelations and how the Education and Employment Secretary's new package went down with delegates.
The Government's exams chief has ruled out moves to drive traditional qualifications out of the market in favour of national vocational qualifications.
Principals at the AOC conference were given firm assurance by Dr Nick Tate, chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, that traditional vocational qualifications would not be swept away in the forthcoming exams review.
He made his comments after reporting a crackdown on NVQs. More than 1, 600 have been cancelled and Pounds 5 million clawed back from training and enterprise councils after an inquiry into alleged sleaze.
Dr Tate told principals the crackdown was evidence of the tough action watchdogs would take against training organisations which flouted the rules.
Lifelong Learning Minister Dr Kim Howells summoned chairmen of 25 training and enterprise councils (TECs) to Westminster earlier this week to issue a stark warning that abuses would not be tolerated.
The latest revelations come just days after ministers revealed they were investigating 20 cases of fraud, some exceeding Pounds 1 million, involving TECs.
One, the Central England TEC, has been given just three weeks to reform itself or face abolition.
Dr Tate, whose new super-quango is responsible for regulating all Britain's vocational and academic qualifications, said the 1,600 NVQs, made under an accreditation of prior learning scheme, were cancelled after a police investigation into one training provider. He said: "It is a signal that we will be vigilant of any abuse of the NVQ system and robust in our action whenever this is identified. Dr Kim Howells has been meeting with the chairman of the 25 TECs who were involved in the scheme and who will be required to repay the Pounds 5m of public money spent on it."
But he reassured principals that the QCA would work closely with the new Training Standards Council and the college inspectorate to clamp down on sleaze while minimising the burden on hard-pressed colleges.
"A balance must be struck between manageability for providers and employers on the one hand and the good name of the qualification on the other."
And he said there were no plans to impose NVQs as a replacement for traditional vocational awards. "One thing we will not be doing is simply promoting NVQs with the intention of driving out all other types of vocational qualification. We have moved on from that position," he said.
"As market-led institutions colleges have shown that there is a huge continuing demand for vocational qualifications of different kinds." Consultations on the future of awards for 16 to 19-year-olds could not be pre-empted.
But Dr Tate indicated possible support for a building-block-style system of credits - something favoured by many principals.
"I think things are moving almost inevitably in that direction. I also think the unitisation of most things, including A-levels, is a major step towards the sort of framework you are talking about, but more needs to be done," he said.