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What the delegates thought

Delegates at the conference remain to be convinced that the new quango will make a difference.

Tim Boyes-Watson is chief executive of Learning South West - a partnership of colleges and private training organisations which formed in 1947. He said: "They are going to create these things called regional quality improvement partnerships. What we have yet to see is the balance of power between central QIA and those bodies. How much autonomy will they have to commission to meet local needs?

"At the moment the initiatives they have are largely carried over from old agencies. And funding is mainly going to improve provision, which is right and good. (But) that's not going to achieve the vision they're talking about because very few colleges are poor: most are moving from average to good or good to excellent.

"As it stands, there doesn't seem to be any clear way that an average or good college can get much help from the QIA." Ruth Silver, (right) principal of Lewisham college, said: "I found the array of interesting and slightly odd people who took up the main platform amusing. But I was really disappointed that at this, our first quality agency national conference, nobody from the sector was on the main stage.

"Where were all those wonderful vice-principals in charge of quality? Why weren't they up there saying we are doing this on peer review, we are doing this on e-learning?

"If it's a quality improvement event, then can we talk about our quality at our conference?""

Dr John Brennan (right), chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: "I think a lot depends on how it actually develops its approach on the ground.

"If it shows the providers that it's very much there to help them, to support them, to give them the tools to tackle internal improvement problems, then I think it will be seen as being very much on the side of the sector.

"If it's perceived as simply delivering a series of government programmes, I think it will be more distanced from the institutions and perhaps less relevant to what they have to do."

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