LEPs get go-ahead to grant charter status

The government has given Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) “sign-off” on granting colleges and training providers chartered status.

Skills Minister Matthew Hancock told FE Week that LEP approval was needed for providers to be given the stamp of quality. His decision has been criticised by the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), which said it hoped the government would not make a “final” decision until the results of a consultation were published next month.

 LEPs are crucial to ensuring that the right skills are drawn-down in an area.”

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has been consulting since late November on plans for chartered status.

In its consultation document, the government said status would help institutions to build their reputation, gain recognition for what they had achieved within their communities, raise the status of FE, and help the UK Border Agency to recognise legitimate providers.

BIS said it would expect the sector to have set up a body to award chartered status within two to three years and that the stamp of quality would last four or five years.

Mr Hancock, who described chartered status as a demonstration of quality, told FE Week: “The chartered status would require the sign-off of the LEP, so that the college or provider is working in a way which is consistent with the local skills strategy.”

He added: “LEPs are crucial to ensuring that the right skills are drawn-down in an area.”

AELP chief executive Graham Hoyle is concerned that LEPs have been given the power of approval. “While I can perfectly understand where the minister is coming from on this, I would hope that this wouldn’t be an immediate requirement,” he said.

“Some LEPs are very small in terms of resources, and while they might know about the colleges on their patch, it is extremely unlikely that they will know all about the many work-based learning providers spread across what can be a very wide geographical area.

“I hope that the government will hold back on making final decisions until it has seen the consultation’s findings.”

Joy Mercer, director of policy at the Association of Colleges (AoC), said it would respond to the consultation.

“It is imperative that chartered status does not replicate the mistakes of other initiatives such as the Training Quality Standard that promised a return for colleges on their investment in a quality approach to employers, but yielded little,” she said.

“LEPs are very different from area to area in their focus, representation, maturity and geographical coverage. If LEPs are to be involved in chartered status we would want to see a much more consistent approach that reflects the current best practice of college involvement in some areas. Colleges are very keen to work in partnership to design locally responsive programmes with LEPs as they are a crucial element.

“Any work with LEPs will, of course, be done on a collaborative basis.”

The consultation came after Lord Lingfield’s suggestion in October that a chartered body would raise professionalism in the sector.