‘Trust’ is key for new college freedoms

As the saying goes, all good relationships are built on trust – and it seems that motto can be extended to the world of further education (FE).

The link to the old adage was made during the Association of Colleges (AoC) Annual Conference and Exhibition 2011 on Tuesday, when more powers due to be handed to colleges were discussed.

Lord Hill of Oareford, parliamentary secretary of state for schools at the Department for Education, said: “We want a system based more on trust, with institutions having more autonomy to exercise their own professional judgements.”

He then outlined how education reform, set out in the Education Bill, which completed its journey through Parliament on Monday, will apply post-16.

Lord Hill said: “We are keen that ministers and officials take a step back as much as possible and trust the profession more.

“So, we are legislating to give colleges more freedom. More freedom to borrow and invest for example.

“Thanks to our Education Bill you won’t have to go cap in hand to the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency or the LA or the secretary of state to borrow even the smallest amount of money.”

He also pointed to “scrapping power of a government body to appoint up to two members of the college Governing Body” and giving colleges the ability to amend their Instruments and Articles as steps to make them “freer”.

Lord Hill also discussed enrolment and the plans to directly take on students aged 14-16, as “colleges have expert teachers and facilities to offer high quality vocational options” with a core curriculum.

However, the finer details of this, Lord Hill said, need to be discussed with the AoC and their sibling, the Sixth Form Colleges Forum.

The Lord went on, saying: “Giving institutions greater autonomy needs to be matched with greater accountability.

“The current accountability system does not yet apply equally across the different types of 16-19 education.

“We want a system driven by and rewards success in getting young people into skilled work and higher education, not driven by financial incentives.”

To do this, the DfE plans to put in measures to show student progress, reform performance tables to reflect achievement, and exempt outstanding colleges and providers from Ofsted inspections.

Finally, Lord Hill discussed the buzz word of the moment; simplification.

He described the current funding system as “complicated”and talked of the need to make it “clearer, more transparent and easier to understand by all” which is why, Lord Hill says, they launched the 16-19 funding formula review in October.

The consultation ends on January 4, 2012. He said: “It is vital that we get this right so I would urge you to contribute to the consultation.”