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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:

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  • 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


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