Who will feed our appetite for change?

4th June 2010 at 01:00
Comment: Alan Thomson

The KPMG report (page 1) reveals further education as a real mixed bag of ingredients.

We have a crop of generally high-quality providers - all locally sourced, naturally - alongside a distinctly sour funding situation and a bunch of colleges that have seen better days. We also find considerable appetite for change and innovation alongside a seam of untapped private cash.

All the ingredients are there to create either a recipe for success or for failure and KPMG does a good job of setting out some of the options and possible pitfalls.

But its report, along with similar documents published by other bodies over the past few months, can only go so far. It is not up to KPMG to decide what FE will make of its future.

And here is the fundamental issue for colleges and FE in general: what exactly do they want?

College leaders seem to concur on many things - KPMG reports unanimous agreement that colleges must act now if they are to survive into the future.

There is also a shared perception among colleges that becoming larger is a useful survival tactic. KPMG certainly found that larger colleges are more efficient and tend to get better Ofsted reports. Interestingly though, principals do not agree on the optimum size for a college.

If bulking up is one answer, the question then becomes about how best to achieve this.

As the report points out, the sector could allow the Government to take the lead in restructuring and slimming down the FE delivery structure to create fewer, larger providers. But the risk, says KPMG, is a nasty double dose of central control and funding cuts.

Instead, the report says, it is imperative that the sector helps itself. Collaboration and sector-driven action will be essential if FE is to avoid the fate of the hapless state school sector as it is carved up by the new Government.

There is, according to KPMG, a need for collective buy-in from the FE sector to the notion that cuts do not necessarily mean poorer provision or reduced quality.

But who has that big vision for change that the sector so clearly wants? If college leaders want radical systemic change, then who among them is going to step up to the plate?

The KPMG report will rightly prompt further debate in the sector. But, as providers themselves told the accountants, the time for talk is running out.

Alan Thomson, Editor, FE Focus?

alan.thomson@tsleducation.com.

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