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Securing strategic leadership for the learning and skills sector in England

Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, reported today that the frameworks that the Department for Education and Skills and the Learning and Skills Council have developed and put in place to plan and monitor the further education sector are likely to support systematic planning and provide reasonable assurance. As the frameworks develop, more evidence is emerging about how they can be implemented more efficiently and effectively. For example there needs to be:

  • clearer responsibilities and accountability of college governing bodies;
  • improved communication with governors, especially of key strategies and policies affecting colleges;
  • improved relationships to help address concerns about perceived reductions in the autonomy of colleges to set their strategic direction, and to support open discussion of the tensions between national, regional and local priorities;
  • more collaboration at regional level – both between and within organisations – where it can help planning and information collection to be done more efficiently; and
  • continued development of appropriate joint audit and inspection regimes that are better explained and well understood by those subject to the audit and inspection.

“The learning and skills sector is complex. Getting effective and efficient frameworks in place to support strategic planning and provide reasonable assurance is very challenging. The key has to be getting the governance right at local level, and college governors – most of whom are unpaid volunteers – need to be well supported, including by key influential organisations such as the Learning and Skills Council. There also needs to be some serious thinking about the future of performance improvement and review. In the longer term, some form of robust peer review of colleges might prove the best way of guaranteeing that they provide and sustain appropriate, high quality learning.”

Sir John Bourn

Notes for Editors

  1. The Department for Education and Skills sets the policy and strategic direction for the learning and skills sector. In April 2001 the Learning and Skills Council was established, replacing the Further Education Funding Council and the Training and Enterprise Councils, as the first step towards a more planned approach to ensure that public funding is focused on meeting the Department’s and wider government objectives. At the same time the Adult Learning Inspectorate was established and it, along with Ofsted (the Office for Standards in Education), began to undertake joint inspections of colleges in the further education sector. This inspection framework may change following the recent Budget announcement to merge the two inspectorates, subject to consultation.
  2. Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website at www.nao.org.uk. Hard copies can be obtained from The Stationery Office on 0845 702 3474.
  3. The Comptroller and Auditor General, Sir John Bourn, is the head of the National Audit Office which employs some 800 staff. He and the NAO are totally independent of Government. He certifies the accounts of all Government departments and a wide range of other public sector bodies; and he has statutory authority to report to Parliament on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which departments and other bodies have used their resources.

PN: 32/05