Colleges and other training providers could be given the chance to gain “chartered” status as a mark of quality, FE Week has learned.

A new “chartered community college” grade would be introduced, with institutions assessed against a range of criteria possibly including the levels of qualifications of their staff, learner feedback and community involvement.

The plans are also being billed as helping immigration officials in their crackdown on “bogus” colleges.

The move is set out in a paper, leaked to FE Week, which was presented to the Further Education and Skills Ministerial Advisory Panel last week.

The document, written by Department for Business, Innovation and Skills civil servant Valerie Carpenter, says the introduction of “Chartered Community College Status” would aim to enhance the reputation of the sector, promote quality and improve the training of the workforce.

It would also have the aim of helping “the border agency to be able to recognise legitimate colleges and training providers,” says the document.

Chartered Community College status would apply to colleges, with an equivalent status available for non-college training providers.

The paper says that many providers would meet the criteria for the status “almost immediately”, but that “others would have further work to do to attain it”. “Experts from the FE sector” would sit on panels to assess bids.

Suggested criteria – included in the document to “stimulate debate” – include:

–          “quality indicators”,including qualification levels in the workforce

–          “learner-centred indicators”:student involvement in running the college, excellent customer feedback

–          “employer-centred indicators”, such as, again, customer feedback or clarity over fees charged

–          “community-centred indicators”: community engagement.

–          “open data”

The paper suggests the status should be voluntary, but that there might need to be “incentives”, such as “further freedoms and flexibilities” – to drive initial take-up.

Community colleges exist in the United States and there was speculation this week that this had inspired the term.

Jim Crawley, chair of the post-16 committee of the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers, said: “I have been to community colleges in the States and they are very close to their communities and seem to have a slightly higher status than FE colleges here.

“Chartered Community College status could be a hallmark of quality. A lot of our colleges do some great work, which never seems to get the recognition that it should.  So maybe Chartered Community College status could help.

“On the other hand, it could be that all the existing models of good practice that already exist in the sector could be ignored if some new status comes out instead.”

The Chartered Community College idea, which was put forward at the meeting chaired by the FE minister John Hayes, is being considered alongside the establishment of a Further Education Guild (see seperate article).

Both could become Government policy in the autumn.