Sector bosses have called into question the “worth” of a new quality marker launched by FE Minister Matthew Hancock.

Sir Geoff Hall, chair of the Information Authority, asked if chartered status for top providers was “worth doing”. His query came during a workshop at an Association of Colleges conference, on information and accountability in FE.

Susan Pember, director of FE and skills investment at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, who was running the discussion, argued that the aim of the new stamp of approval was to bring together local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) and colleges to create a signpost to legitimate providers for the UK Borders Agency.

Sir Geoff said: “Shouldn’t it be more rigorous with an Ofsted marker included to make it more valuable to providers?”

Mrs Pember said that no one had come back from the public consultation asking for extra emphasis on inspections.

The status would have three categories; colleges, providers and community colleges, and would only include providers within the Skills Finding Agency’s system. Areas judged would include engagement with community, and showing strong leadership and management.

“It’s not the badge that’s important — it’s the conversations the providers will have with the LEPs. It’s about coming together and building a collective reputation for the sector,” said
Mrs Pember.

Providers would be judged by a panel of unpaid members made up of “respected” individuals with a “wide range of expertise”. They would include employers, learners, teachers, providers, the community and those with chartered status in other sectors. Colleges would not have to pay towards the process.

Other concerns were that colleges would get in top consultants to write “attractive” applications and that community work varied hugely between colleges. Those in high ethnically diverse areas faced greater challenges.

Mrs Pember said these issues would be looked at during the next stage when a “pathfinder” was created with colleges volunteering to be “dummies” on a trial run.

Mr Hancock told the conference that chartered status had “many fathers”, addressing concerns that it was “just another replacement” for previous markers such as the Training Quality Standard.

“It needs to have a long-term impact and be independent and embedded in the sector — rigorous and aspirational but not burdensome and bureaucratic,” he said.