Intervention inquiry welcomes FE Commissioner but calls for ‘better early warning signals’

A six-month inquiry into FE intervention has welcomed the government’s plan for an FE Commissioner, but called for “better early warning signals…to allow early and pre-emptive interventions”.

The Skills Commission was funded by the Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS) to look at “examples of intervention best practice across the wider public sector to highlight shortcomings in the current FE governance architecture”.

The commission, chaired by Dame Ruth Silver, who remains LSIS chair while it is in the process of ceasing operations, and Barry Sheerman MP, appointed City of Bath College principal Matt Atkinson to chair the inquiry group.

The duo’s foreword in the report said the commission had been “concerned by the increased instances of provider failure in 2012,”  but said the group welcomed the new FE Commissioner an, “effective failure regime” for the sector.

The report, called Move to Improve: an analysis of intervention in Further Education and skills and the wider public sector, was due to be officially launched at the House of Commons tomorrow.

Mr Atkinson, a former LSIS trustee, wrote in the report: “We hoped that by looking to the police, healthcare, higher education, and schools, and by checking that our own house was in order, the FE and skills world would learn valuable lessons, and could make changes where necessary to ensure top quality provision across colleges and training providers.”

The report went on to make 10 recommendations, including: “College corporations should adopt better scrutiny procedures, become more self-critical in assessing how they perform their role, and ensure they are giving adequate attention to the quality of their provision as well as their finances.”

A further recommendation was that: “Better early warning signals need to be developed and shared across the system to allow early and pre-emptive interventions to take place.”

The report also said: “Ofsted, in consultation with the Association of Colleges and the 157 Group, should examine the CQC and the QAA model of inspection, with a view to including greater stakeholder engagement in the assessment of learning and skills providers.”

Mr Atkinson told FE Week ahead of the report launch: “The FE sector is too important to the success of the UK economy for us within the sector to allow institutional underperformance or failure.

“This inquiry has shown that in many instances, the FE sector intervenes effectively, ensures quality consistently and, in doing so, outperforms other public service sectors.

“But our report also demonstrates that further reform is still needed. As we move forward in this new landscape, we must keep our eyes fixed firmly upon ensuring quality of provision and preventing failure.

“We need to start a debate — underpinned by a new, genuine culture of collaboration between providers, regulators and government — about how we do this.

“This report has laid out clear recommendations to get this process firmly underway.”

The report, along with tomorrow’s expected launch, will be covered further by FE Week.