3rd June 2016 at 00:00
Vested interest

Loan arrangers under fire

Given the scale of the structural overhaul of the FE sector that is expected to result from the area reviews, there has been much interest in the amount of funding that will be made available to support any changes.

Indeed, back in March, skills minister Nick Boles told principals at the Education and Training Foundation’s leadership summit that “once that fund is used up, you are basically on your own”. But the minutes from the latest area review advisory group meeting, which have been thrust into FErret’s paws, suggest that, in most cases, they already are.

Other than transition grants of £50,000-£100,000 – to allow colleges to hire experts in “change management” to oversee the implementation of mergers and other partnerships – the only support available is through the “restructuring facility”. This funding, the meeting was told, would in all but exceptional cases be “made available as a loan”.

Not for the first time, the elephant in the room was addressed by the formidable NUS vice-president for FE, Shakira Martin: would the loans be interest-free?

The answer from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills was an emphatic “no”. The Treasury – always a convenient bogeyman for other government departments to blame – had apparently “insisted” that interest must be paid, the meeting was told. But exactly how much interest may vary according to circumstances.

Fact checkers checked

It sounds like a few Ofsted inspectors are getting sick of listening to the moans of disgruntled FE institutions. In its latest update for providers, the watchdog has deemed it necessary to clarify the nature of the “factual accuracy check” of inspection reports, which providers are allowed to carry out before publication. Ofsted explains that providers are simply permitted to query spellings, dates and facts. This does not, it tersely continues, include “challenging the judgements in the inspection report or raising concerns about conduct”. Miaow.

When the lead inspector responds, they apparently “should not engage in a dialogue with the provider about matters of inspection judgement or issues that may constitute a formal complaint”.

FErret reckons this is a tad harsh – after all, everyone is entitled to a good old rant to get a few things off their chest, even if it’s based on nothing more than emotion and personal views. Just ask Sir Michael Wilshaw.

No cuts? No way!

After visiting Norway last summer to learn about its approach to apprenticeships and FE, skills minister Nick Boles has repeatedly pointed out how impressed he was with what he saw. But FErret’s Nordic spy reports that not everything in the land of fjords, elks and the midnight sun is quite in tune with fashionable Westminster policies.

This point is most succinctly summarised by the name of the Norwegian qualifications body, known as NOKUT – hardly in line with the austerity agenda. Just look at the bolshy little chap with a megaphone adorning its website (see image, above). Had UK ministers got their hands on the organisation, FErret has little doubt that it would have been tossed on to the bonfire of the quangos – or, quite possibly, reduced to ashes in a Viking-ship funeral pyre.

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