The Learning and Skills Council (LSC) which is the body responsible for the strategy of apportioning the Further Education budget, has responded to the recent Government report on bureaucratic oversight in the sector.
Each year, more than four million people are trained at local colleges within the FE sector with some 120,000 14 "“ 16 year olds choosing colleges to study vocational qualifications. Approximately 727,000 16-18 year olds choose to study in colleges, compared with only 439,000 in schools. The LSC have responded to the report's statements on cutting bureaucratic over "“ management and have pointed out that complaints of poor quality provision in colleges are questionable owing to the Committee of Public Accounts (PAC) using out "“ of "“ date figures of inspection reports.
LSC and the Agenda for Change
Reacting to the report, Rob Wye, Director of Strategy and Communications at the LSC said: "We welcome the PAC report's contributions to the ongoing debate on performance in the sector. The LSC submitted evidence to the PAC on the work that we are already doing to cut down on red tape and boost quality through our radical reform programme agenda for change. The aims of the agenda are to reduce bureaucracy and develop a culture of self-improvement amongst colleges and providers. We are also simplifying funding and data mechanisms and cutting down on the cost of administration through our own internal transformation, so we are already attending to the recommendations outlined in the PAC report.
"At the heart of the agenda is a redesign of the system so that we recognise those colleges that are performing well and have a much lighter touch relationship with them," he continued. "We are working really hard to improve the quality of local provision, by considering mergers for underperforming colleges and by concentrating more of our resources at a local level."
The report's findings are in keeping with a general move to ensure that a majority of funding is delivered to frontline practitioners. Mr. Wye said: "The LSC is currently undergoing an internal transformation which will see savings of £40 million in administration costs and a reduction in bureaucracy. Our structure will be streamlined to emphasise local LSC support for providers in order that front line learners can benefit."
The Wrong Numbers
As the Association of Colleges (AoC) also picked upon, Mr. Wye pointed to the use of old figures of failing or unsatisfactory colleges. He commented: "The figure of 35 underperforming colleges that is quoted in the PAC report is already out of date, according to latest figures taken from Ofsted inspections. The second cycle of college inspections began in September 2005 with 27 colleges being re-inspected. This has reduced the percentage judged to be inadequate from 11 % to just 2 % out of the total number of colleges in England.
"This means that only 9 FE colleges are currently classed as inadequate "“ and we are working hard with them to effect change," he said. "And in fact, current success rates in colleges are most impressive! 96 % of leadership and management grades were found to be satisfactory or better and 60 % were good or better. 100 % of grades for overall effectiveness were satisfactory or better and 60 % good or better. We are absolutely committed to helping colleges in the sector to achieve the best results that they can in order to drive up the standards of learning and skills provision that is available."
Mr. Wye also stressed that the improvements were a continual work in progress, saying: "We are working with colleges to help them to assess the quality of their provision and make improvements and are making good progress. We will be publishing further guidance shortly on how we will tackle poor quality provision, which will include timescales on when we expect to see further improvements. It is true that a very small number of colleges are failing to pass their inspections. But hundreds others are succeeding and are providing quality service to their local communities."
He finished by saying: "We are proud of the work that colleges are doing in the sector and believe that they are making an invaluable contribution to the economy and success of this country. It is important that we recognise the positive contribution that colleges are making and work together to improve the reputation of a sector that has been undervalued for far too long."
Following the Foster Review and this Committee's report, it would seem that one of the key battlegrounds of public finance in the coming years will be the slimming down of bureaucratic structures. The question now is surely whether or not the LSC's changes have gone far enough to appease those who see it as a mammoth organisation diverting funding from colleges and training providers rather than an integral cog in FE.
Does the committee's report change how you see the LSC? Let us know in the FE Blog