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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 November 2006, 12:21 GMT
Failing colleges face crackdown
By Hannah Goff
Education reporter, BBC News, at the AoC conference, Birmingham

Office worker
Local further education colleges train 4m people every year
Underperforming colleges in England face a tough intervention regime under plans from the education secretary.

Announcing proposals to shake up the further education sector, Alan Johnson told a conference of college leaders he intended to wipe out failure by 2008.

Funding body, the Learning and Skills Council, will get powers to remove the heads of colleges deemed to be failing.

The Further Education and Training Bill also gives colleges the power to award foundation degrees.

Mr Johnson also challenged college leaders to develop plans for self regulation by next Spring.

'Improvement notices'

He told the Association of Colleges annual conference in Birmingham: "Of course we will do all we can to help poor performers to improve, and the improvement notices will help but where continuous efforts fail, firm action must be taken.

"We must push for greater improvements among 'under-performers' and we must eliminate complete failure by 2008 at the latest."

He added: "The responsibility for improvement must rest primarily with FE institutions themselves - and one purpose of the legislation is to ensure that this happens."

But Mr Johnson also heaped praise on the further education sector's achievements saying many colleges were already getting "tremendous results".

"With participation rates, success rates and progression all up; the proportion of failing colleges and under-performers all down, and the proportion of employers and learners who say that they are 'very satisfied' with FE also increasing."

Government needed to get out of the way of the best colleges and allow them to reach "greater heights" so that they might "spur on the rest", he added.

Foundation degrees

The further education bill, which was promised in last week's Queen's Speech, also gives colleges the power to award foundation degrees.

REVIEW OF FE IN WALES
Minister and Sir Adrian at Coleg Glan Hafren
Bill also empowers the Welsh Assembly to introduce measures relating to the delivery and efficiency of further education
Education Minister Jane Davidson (front, left) has announced an independent review of the mission and purpose of FE
It will be led by Sir Adrian Webb (front right), former vice-chancellor of the University of Glamorgan
Progress report expected by January
This has been welcomed by the further education sector.

Local colleges train more than four million people yearly. Some 727,000 16 to 18-year-olds study in colleges compared with 439,000 in schools.

And FE colleges award more than half of all vocational qualifications - more than half a million in 2003-4.

AoC chief executive, Dr John Brennan said: "Colleges compete in an open market very successfully, as over 200,000 employers acorss the country will testify."

He said there were ways in which colleges could improve but there needed to be some realism about the extent of improvement.

Dr Brennan also welcomed the challenge for colleges to take charge of their own affairs in terms of self-regulation.

The AoC argues enhanced external intervention powers are unnecessary in practice, can only undermine the autonomy of governing bodies and are legally fraught in employment terms.

Ioan Morgan, who heads the 157 group of larger colleges, welcomed the bill, adding: "trusting colleges to do more for themselves is pivotal to enable self-regulating colleges deliver on skills, community cohesion and economic development."

'Employability'

The CBI said new measures were welcome but the government must go further.

Director-general John Cridland said: "Business will judge this bill on its delivery of the Foster Report's key message - that colleges' primary purpose should be to improve employability and supply economically valuable skills."

The TUC said the CBI should stop playing the "blame game".

Its deputy general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "For too long vocational education and training has played second fiddle to the academic route, and that has to change.

"This bill could provide an opportunity to put FE colleges at the heart of a strategy to boost both economic performance and skills opportunities for working people."

He added: "Further education should be praised for attracting a growing number of businesses into training and for the nine out of 10 satisfaction ratings achieved."




SEE ALSO
Colleges may have degree powers
15 Nov 06 |  Education
UK staff 'need time off to train'
17 Nov 06 |  Business
FE students 'stand to be losers'
10 May 06 |  Education
FE reforms target skills training
27 Mar 06 |  Education
Skills gap 'threatens UK future'
05 Dec 05 |  Education

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