It is not only the private sector that provides consultancy services to colleges: the Further Education Development Agency, the not-for-profit company that provides research and staff development for the sector, offers support as part of the programme it runs on raising quality and achievement.
In the past year, the agency's quality teams have dealt with 200 colleges - nearly half the sector. The services are either free or subsidised and offer a cost-effective way for colleges to address curriculum quality issues. On average a Feda team would spend two days in a college preparing a detailed action plan on how the Standards Fund money earmarked for improvement should be spent.
First, there would be a needs analysis, discussed with the college in advance and then amended as the consultancy progresses. It would cover the absence of quality manuals and systems. "Provision can be patchy," says Anna Reisenburger, who manages the programme.
It also covers benchmarking "where the aim is to help colleges make best use of their data", leadership and governance, action-research to help with assessment of improvement straegies and preparation for external inspection. "Colleges often request help with mock inspections or we may be asked to validate their self-assessment," says Ms Reisenburger.
At City and Islington, Frank McLoughlin, the director, argues that Feda "has lots of college contacts which it is prepared to share and has an interest in making the sector work". His college had asked for help with its management information systems. "We didn't want someone just to reflect the problem back at us," he says. "The consultant was outstanding because he was so steeped in the sector."
Another Feda support service focuses on vocational qualifications. Nazir Ebrahim, who runs it, stresses that the new vocational GCSEs are broadly the same as the old GNVQs.
"We run training events for teachers and lecturers, a website and published materials. Our pilot centre has helped to develop best practice and we run development projects where Feda funds schools and colleges to support them in the development of the new qualifications." Such projects, worth between pound;1,000 and pound;3,000, include consultant support.