From education to employment

New Agency Launched to Improve Quality for FE and Fuel Engine for Change

The Further Education sector is welcoming a new addition to the ranks of agencies committed to the skills improvement mission with the launch of the Quality Improvement Agency (QIA).

The new agency started operations on the 3rd of April but is officially launched later today by Ruth Kelly MP, Secretary of State for Education and Skills. The QIA has moved into its new Coventry headquarters. The agency will be working to drive up the quality of provision and training across all areas of the Further Education sector in England, with a staff of sixty four and a budget of £92 million per year (of which some £6 million is to be used for administrative purposes).

The Commissioner of Quality Improvement Products

The QIA has been established to act as the one and only single body responsible for commissioning quality improvement products and programmes for the learning and skills sector. The agency will join partners in the sector, including the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) ““ who will focus on quality assurance ““ and the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) ““ who will no longer be responsible for commissioning products for quality improvement.

The QIA was first announced by the then Secretary of State for Education and Skills Charles Clarke MP at the Learning and Skills Development Agency (LSDA) Conference in September of 2004. One of the key tasks for the agency in its first months will be the formulation of a quality improvement strategy together with the contributions from sector partners such as Sector Skills Councils (SSCs), the LSC, the Inspectorates (the Adult Learning Inspectorate [ALI] and Ofsted). The QIA is also set to offer economies of scale, with an anticipated saving of £26 million through what they describe as “further rationalisation of quality improvement activities.”

Existing awards and symbols of recognition for excellence in FE will be transferred within the QIA’s remit, such as Beacon status and the STAR awards (the final date for nominations for this award recognising outstanding performance in FE and training is approaching, as can be seen right here). The board will be made up of 13 members consisting of six former LSDA board members and six new recruits, to be recommended by the ministers. The QIA is a non ““ departmental public body (NDPB) with the key role of commissioning services provided by others.

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Kelly Recognises Vital Place of FE

Speaking of the newly created agency, which will take on the policy and strategic work of the LSDA (whose other roles will continue under the new title of the private company Learning and Skills Network [LSN]), Ruth Kelly said: “A top performing FE sector is a crucial part of this Government’s vision for a modern education system”¦a continued drive to improve quality in the sector is essential if we are to meet the needs of learners and employers and ensure the UK remains economically competitive in the years to come.

“QIA will provide a national focus for quality improvement in the learning and skills sector and act as the catalyst for change,” she continues, “supporting all institutions to move towards our vision of excellence for the sector.” She also referred to the QIA’s potential for encouraging sharing best practices, saying: “QIA will bring together under one roof a range of quality improvement activities that are currently spread between different organisations, making it easier for organisations to locate a single source of expertise.”

Quality improvement is impossible to argue with when it comes to education; serious questions remain regarding the best way to guarantee such improvement, and how to accurately and fairly measure such improvement. With success achieving ever more importance, most obviously represented in the threat that a failing college could be forced to replace its management structure and be offered up for private management, the margin for error in quality has never been narrower.

Jethro Marsh

Stay at FE News for all the news of the birth of a new FE agency!

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