The new BIS guide to college governance (August 2014) signals an interesting direction of travel in relation to government policy on the accountability of colleges in England to their customers, stakeholders and communities – especially learners and employers.
This accountability is enshrined in five key outcomes for publicly funded skills provision set out in the guide (p.7). One of five outcomes is expected to be:
“Education and training that provides the knowledge and skills individuals need to: gain employment; change employment; progress in work; and progress to higher levels of education and training.” (p.7)
This explicit recognition of the fundamental role of colleges in enabling lifelong learning, employability and career development for individuals is most welcome.
The guide is also explicit about the central importance of good careers guidance in enabling customers to make informed choices:
“Additionally, colleges are required under the Education Act 1997 to ‘provide persons attending the college with access to both guidance materials and reference materials relating to careers education and career opportunities’. Additionally there is now a contractual responsibility placed on all FE colleges which mirrors the statutory duty placed on schools for 13-18 year olds, to secure access to independent, impartial careers advice for their learners. There is also an expectation that FE colleges will work closely with the National Careers Service. The AoC has produced guidance which sets out good practice in developing and maintaining effective partnership arrangements.” (p.11)
As well as outlining the wider framework for accountability, the guide also explains how qualification success rates and destination measures will be improved to give better indications of the outcomes achieved by colleges. They acknowledge that:
“there are some limitations to existing measures. They do not show, for example, whether a qualification helped a learner make progress against their starting point. More importantly they do not show whether achievement of a qualification helped a learner to enter employment, progress in employment or enter further learning. So in future government intends to use data on learner outcomes to hold providers to account. We are also exploring how, for certain elements of provision, funding can be linked to individual learner outcomes. The consultation on Traineeship funding … provides further information.” (p.14)
The strong hint that the government is keen to use ‘payment by results’ to strengthen accountability is less welcome. Hard outcomes such as destination measures will always be blunt instruments for assessing the effectiveness of further education. They have their part to play in a balanced framework for accountability but that is a framework that also acknowledges the importance of the soft skills outcomes that make the real difference to individuals’ success in working life and which employers really value. Ask anyone who works in careers or HR!
Download College Governance: A guide here
Download Working Together from the AoC here