The Foster Review

Our aims are centred around the mandate that the paragraph [157 of the Foster Review] has given us, and that is about providing leadership within the sector; improving the reputation of the sector, and really, to build esteem for the sector. We"re doing this through a number of projects, including working with the Centre for Excellence in Leadership [CEL], developing and taking forward self-regulation, and some specific projects around a socio-economic model for colleges. These are our key agendas.

On the socio-economic model: We"re being partially funded by the Learning and Skills Council, for a project at Warwickshire College that has just started. A company in the U.S visits the community colleges of America and Canada once every two years and carries out a survey to measure what contributions the colleges make to their communities. They look at everything from what the qualifications mean to the students in terms of earning power, but they also look at lessening the burden on the health services, and crime reduction figures. There is a mass of data that is analysed and in the end a figure is produced that represents the value for money against the tax investment made in the college.

What we"re very keen to do is to be able to tell Bill Rammell for example, that "here is a college that is using taxpayer's money very effectively". The knock-on effect is that he will then be able to make a good case to the Treasury for extra money in further education.

We"re trying to get a model for the UK system.

We feel that it is a much more holistic and valuable measure of a college's contribution as opposed to something like the "Framework for Excellence". It is on trial at Warwickshire College, and will be rolled out to the sector in May.

We"re also currently working on a project to ensure that clause 19 of the Further Education and Training Bill gets through Parliament; the clause that deals with Foundation Degree awarding powers for the sector. We see this as an important signature qualification for colleges. We think it is far more appropriate for Foundation Degrees to rest in colleges than in universities. In my view, we will do a better and more cost-effective job.

The 5 Dec 2006 - Leitch Review of Skills

One of the things that we have taken away from it is the ability of colleges to develop their own qualifications and work more closely with the Sector Skills Councils. One of the tangible benefits will be that when a college like Warwickshire works very closely with an employer, we can actually put together qualifications that are really meaningful to the employer, and not just a convenience for funding.

I think it is up to groups like the 157 to ensure that what emerges from the FE bill is workable; it must be fit for purpose. There is a balance needed "“ you can listen to the voice of the employer but equally you must pay attention to the needs of the individual student. And importantly, make sure that work in the community for other groups is not totally ignored. One of the ways around this is to work in partnership with other groups "“ it does not matter who delivers in an area, as long as there is coverage. Some colleges might focus on skills; others might want more of a community link.

In my view the focus on skills is helpful. In the past, when people have asked what further education is for, because we do so much, it is very difficult for people to focus. I think if people associated us with employability skills and helping economic development, then that is very important.

Colleges should be right at the forefront of economic development.

On the AoC

The 157 Group is needed to ensure that the larger colleges" voices are heard. AoC has a difficult job because it represents all colleges of all shapes and sizes. We have the luxury of being able to focus our attentions on the larger further education colleges.

I think that one of the big issues in terms of reputation is that very often the AoC comes across as being quite negative; negative to change. The 157 Group always tries to have this attitude that "the cup is half full". What we"ve tried to do is to work very closely with ministers in private to make sure that we can overtly support what emerges as policy. When policy is being formulated we want to be in there and be constructive. And when that policy emerges, we shall support it very enthusiastically.

We want to portray a confident sector; a confident sector that is trusted and able.

My view at the moment is that FE stands at the edge of a hugely exciting period. We can either seize the moment or become a sector that is full of confusion. I think that if we seize the moment now, we have a very supportive group of ministers; we"ve got the Foster Review, we"ve got Leitch, and we have our own education Act going through Parliament "“ everything is going for us. We must not be afraid of the brave new world of competition. We have to form partnerships, embrace the private sector, and go forward confidently.

We must not be afraid to make our voice known.

Ioan Morgan, Chair, the 157 Group

Interviewed by Vijay Pattni.

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