Can you place the following in order: Quality, Efficiency and Income? Which are the most important to your organisation and which will be at the top of the agenda for 2013/14?


The climate in FE is changing. There is a need throughout the sector to do more with less. Many providers have been through austere times and are facing continued uncertainty with challenges to funding over the coming year. The need for college leaders to balance the relationship between income and the quality and efficiency of their provision will determine their own effectiveness.

Having experienced the first academic year under the revised CIF, some leaders will now be expecting a further visit from Ofsted within the next 18 months - if their organisation received the ‘requires improvement’ grade at inspection under the revised framework.

Whilst Teaching, Learning and Assessment remain at the heart of the new inspection framework, performance management is emerging as one of the key drivers against Leadership and Management judgments. The need for providers to demonstrate their capacity to improve through accurate self-assessment and ongoing performance management against KPIs will contribute to a compelling narrative in their Self Assessment Reports. The quality of their improvement planning will determine their success, and building a response system that identifies clear and timely actions that teams can use to respond to a range of issues will undoubtedly lead to positive results.

So where is the good practice?

Many of those providers who embrace the need to stay one step ahead have looked at the private sector for good practice. Although there are many differences in measuring successes in each sector, customer value and quality remain in common to both. Performance management of these - as well as other metrics - provides measurements that can be used to drive improvements. One example of this is the EFQM model which has been used throughout the world to drive improvements in quality in an organisation. The quality model “encourages organisations to move from rigid corporate structures to more agile ones that are better suited to the rigors of today’s global economic environment”.

Following several mergers, Deeside College in North Wales has continued to provide an outstanding service to its learners. Principal David Jones will now lead the newly-formed Coleg Cambria following the latest merger, and speaks highly of the ‘fundamental concepts’ used in the EFQM Excellence model. David says “it provided a structure to the thinking behind our strategic plan in 2011. It is results focused and developed alongside the Estyn inspection criteria (Ofsted CIF equivalent in Wales), continues to provide both an evaluative and forward planning tool to be used by the leadership team.”

Systems and Lean thinking are two other business change mechanisms that have had far reaching applications in both the private and public services. Lean, as championed by Toyota, has been used in manufacturing, IT and customer services to remove waste and create flow in the value of the products and services to the customer. Used successfully, it offers cost savings, not to mention an empowered workforce.

The application of Systems Thinking is also a pragmatic approach that allows front line staff to experiment and improve. Vice principal for curriculum at Shipley College, Julie Bales, has used systems thinking successfully, and reflects “we have had some remarkable results in terms of savings and improved service”.

She says: “Applying ‘traditional’, strict cross college, standardised systems can be seen as stripping front line staff of their professionalism. All staff need support, but we have worked hard to ensure that clear central guidance always leaves room for variable application to individual processes, thus enabling staff to support variable customer demand. In pursuit of this - it is for teams to maximise the use of college systems and resources in their own way to achieve the best results.

“As a result of using these methods, we have moved from an organisation who determines what is important as defined by our senior managers, to what is important to our learners.”

The need to do more with less is here to stay

Greater efficiency in the sector is needed. Some of the holistic approaches described above do require buy-in from all staff, though tackled in this way have led to some very positive results. Evidence suggests that the tools really work and colleges can move from a focus on success rates to one that maximises student potential.

Tim Evans is director of Lean4learning, which provides efficiency gains for the education sector

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