General further education (FE) colleges are to be reclassified as no longer being a part of central government.

The decision by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) means FE colleges will have more freedoms as independent bodies and be affected by significantly less red tape.

Skills Minister John Hayes, announcing the decision today, said: “I am delighted at this very positive news which we have been working hard to achieve over the last year.

“The Government is committed to cutting red tape so that further education colleges have the freedom they need to make their own judgements on how to manage their affairs for the benefit of learners, employers and wider communities.”

The decision follows a review by the ONS of the changes made in the Education Act 2011 by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Department for Education (DfE), which include removing a number of restrictions and controls both for further education and sixth form colleges.

The ONS told the treasury last week that the changes, to be implemented from April 2012, are sufficient enough to warrant a reclassification.

Martin Doel, chief Executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), said: “We are extremely pleased that the Government has succeeded in getting this decision reversed and has delivered on its promise to afford further education colleges greater autonomy.

“Allowing colleges to maintain their own affairs is not only beneficial to the institutions themselves, it also brings more clarity to the way public money is spent.”

The previous classification by the ONS in October 2010 meant FE colleges were included in government accounting boundaries.

Lynne Sedgmore CBE, executive director of the 157 Group, said: “This decision aligns with the freedoms and flexibilities given by John Hayes and his department and enables colleges to deliver Governmental priorities and initiatives.

“Clearly the voice of colleges and our business communities have been listened to, and responded to, on this critical matter to good effect.”

The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) has welcomed the change and says it will help colleges deliver “more innovative and diverse adult learning”.

Mark Ravenhall, NIACE Director of Policy and Impact, said: “NIACE believes adult learners will benefit from this change, alongside the greater freedoms being introduced for colleges and other providers.

“We welcome the announcement and the challenge made to the sector to deliver more innovative and diverse adult learning that is truly accountable to local communities.

“The decision also proves that just because colleges deliver good public services they don’t have to be part of the public sector.”

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