From education to employment

New report backs further freedoms for further education

NEF, the vocational education think-tank and charity, welcomes Further Education Minister John Hayes’ expression of support for reforming the UK’s colleges.

Writing online for FE News on 9 August, Mr Hayes outlined the Coalition’s plans for “freeing” colleges and training organisations “from unnecessary bureaucracy” and giving them “the freedom to deliver the skills that learners and employers require”.

His comments were followed by publication of the NEF report: Freeing Colleges from Direct State Control. It states that colleges should be set free from bureaucracy and calls for “local plans with local partners” to form the basis of colleges’ strategies to meet the needs of students, employers and other organisations involved in the socio-economic wellbeing of their neighbourhoods.

Colleges need to be freed from direct state control in a new deal with Government which rewards outcomes instead of relying on micro-management. The key seems to lie in the ability to trade reduced funding for increased power to decide on spending and in being held accountable for impacts rather than processes.

The report says principals did not support privatisation of colleges because it was not in the public interest for failing institutions to be at risk of closure – depriving communities of an essential public service. Instead, the view was that there should be a more liberal regime of independence. The current arrangements, which saw colleges leave local authority control in 1993 following legislation the previous year, still involve too great a burden of red tape, says the report.

The findings are based on consultation and discussion with college principals that took place in July this year, when NEF hosted a group of 13 principals, observed by senior officials from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, at a think-tank to identify the ways in which a balance can be struck between allowing colleges greater flexibility to act while preserving the national FE infrastructure.

Freeing Colleges from Direct State Control is available at or by e-mail to [email protected].

Sa’ad Medhat is chief executive of the New Engineering Foundation, the independent charity that works with key partners and stakeholders to support the advancement of education

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