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Friday, 3 November, 2000, 16:16 GMT
UK colleges 'improving slowly'
Sixth Form College
The report welcomed improvements made, but pinpointed continuing weaknesses
Further education colleges in the UK are successfully improving the quality of their provision but there are still weaknesses in the sector, the Further Education Funding Council (FEFC) has found.

In his annual report, FEFC chief inspector Jim Donaldson reported that there were fewer failing colleges in 1999-2000 than in the previous year.

Of the 644 literacy and numeracy lessons observed by inspectors, only 49% were judged to be good or outstanding

Jim Donaldson
At qualification levels one, two and three, over 60% of the sector had improved their rates of achievement - equating to a 2-3% rise for 16 to 18 year olds and adults.

The report - which draws on the results of 112 college inspections in 1999-2000 - showed that of the 9,577 lessons observed, 45% were judged to be good and 17% were excellent.

The board of governors in 86% of colleges was deemed satisfactory or better, with governors "paying more attention to quality and standards".

"These are promising statistics," he said, "they confirm that there is much that is good in our colleges."

Poor key skills

While there was "no shortage of innovative thinking and energy within the sector", there were anomalies of serious concern, Mr Donaldson said.

"I am particularly disturbed by the finding that of the 644 literacy and numeracy lessons observed by inspectors, only 49% were judged to be good or outstanding and 11% were unsatisfactory or poor.

"The gap between the quality of student experience and likelihood of successfully achieving an appropriate qualification in the best and worst colleges remains unacceptably wide," he said.

Nine of the 112 institutions inspected (8%) was judged to be unsatisfactory in three or more areas. One in nine was found to be poorly led by its management team.

More needed to be done to support part-time staff and help them improve their teaching standards, which were found to be weaker than those of their full-time colleagues, the report suggested.

Parting speech

Mr Donaldson gave details of his report in a speech at the FEFC's farewell annual general meeting in Birmingham.

From April 2001, the work of the FEFC will be merged with that of the Training and Enterprise Council, forming a national Learning Skills Council.

The new body will take responsibility for the funding and contracting of further education and training.

The Office for Standards in Education will take over responsibility for post-16 education and training.

'System under stress'

The FEFC's assessment of UK colleges comes as researchers at Keele University suggest the further education system is under great strain.

Paul Goddard-Patel and Stephen Whitehead claim that - far from helping the sector to improve - the FEFC and the government have effectively set it up for failure.

The FEFC has to give evidence of improvement, otherwise what has it been doing?

Dr Stephen Whitehead
The introduction of complex, competitive funding structures has led colleges to fight for declining resources, they suggest, thereby ensuring the failure of some.

In a study of ten "named and shamed" colleges, Paul Goddard-Patel and Stephen Whitehead found evidence of good practice inside the classroom and in the interaction between lecturers and students.

"The problems don't reside with the lecturers," Dr Whitehead said, "it's a problem of leadership."

But this crisis in leadership was because college managers were expected to expand and become entrepreneurial, without having the experience or the capacity to do so, he said.

"It's too easy to say it's the managers who are at fault."

The research was supportive of the work of further education colleges, but was sceptical about reports of progress.

"The FEFC has to give evidence of improvement, otherwise what has it been doing?

"But if you go into colleges it is not a rosy picture. The practice is good, but the system is under stress," Dr Whitehead said.

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03 Nov 99 | UK Systems
Further education
19 Jun 00 | Education
Colleges dispute cash rewards
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