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Thursday, 7 March, 2002, 16:23 GMT
Closure threat angers colleges
Students in library
Standards are "patchy" for many of Britain's students
Colleges chiefs and lecturers have hit back at government plans to shut those further education colleges which are performing badly.

Failing further education (FE) colleges in England could be closed under new measures aimed at improving standards.

Ministers are concerned the quality of teaching for the country's four million FE students is patchy and that many colleges are underperforming.

The Association of Colleges has accused her of putting out "ill-conceived and dangerously misleading information".


Government should not be fiddling around while this wonderful service burns

David Gibson, Association of Colleges
The government plans to give the Learning and Skills Council new powers to intervene in the running of poorly performing institutes.

Paul Mackney, general secretary of lecturers' union NATFHE, said threats would help no one.

"Colleges need more cash and support," he said.

"Threats of hit squads and closures just won't help FE students, the college staff or the local communities they serve."

While the stick could be used with poorly-performing colleges, the carrot is also being used.

FE colleges which consistently do well could be rewarded with beacon status and encouraged to share their good practices with other colleges.

'Unacceptable'

The inspection regime for colleges changed last year. The Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) now carries out inspections jointly with the Adult Learning Inspectorate.

Mrs Hodge said: "Early inspection results show that four out of 10 colleges need to be re-inspected in some curriculum areas." The Association of Colleges said this was true but that the rate of re-inspection amounted to only about 10% across the sector.

Of the first 18 colleges inspected in the autumn term, leadership and management were judged to be satisfactory or better in all but two, and teaching and learning were at least satisfactory in more than 91% of lessons, it said.

'Long-standing problem'

In February Mrs Hodge warned colleges about high drop-out rates - or low rates of retaining students, as it is officially expressed - and poor lectures.

Colleges say they believe their rates are comparable with schools' sixth forms - on which data are not collected - and that they suffer from taking "all comers".

But Mrs Hodge said: "There has been too much variation in college performance. This is a long-standing problem which we are addressing.

"We need to improve retention, achievement and success rates of students in FE and will build on the best practice we identify," she said.

Colleges' anger

David Gibson, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said they had endured almost a decade of funding cuts while trying to educate four million people.

Their core funding was at 1995-96 levels.

"In these circumstances it is nigh on a miracle that so many colleges have provided so much success for their students," he said in a letter of complaint sent to Mrs Hodge.

"Attack us and you damage us.

"I fail to understand how an unwarranted attack on colleges and their students creates a constructive atmosphere for schools and colleges to co-operate and create the new learning environment you rightly require for 14 to 19 year olds.

"I further fail to understand how the country will be enthused with an appetite for lifelong learning when the minister responsible for it chooses to launch an attack on its principal providers."

See also:

07 Feb 02 | Education
Colleges told to improve
20 Nov 01 | Education
College principals offered training
11 Oct 01 | Education
Colleges accused of racism
26 Jul 01 | Education
Awards for colleges' skills efforts
10 Jul 01 | Education
Colleges protest at new inspections
27 Jun 01 | Education
More computers for colleges
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