COLLEGES are considering introducing a pictorial league table to eliminate the unfairness they see in the present system.
Terry Melia, outgoing chief inspector of the Further Education Funding Council, has talked to college principals about the idea, which would involve mapping the achievements of a year's entrants against a year's leavers. He thinks this would introduce the key added-value wanted by colleges, which see their main role as providing learning for previously low achievers, while providing an easy-to-read format for the general public.
Dr Melia said: "I suggest colleges should do a profile of their year entrants based on GCSE scores. Then, at the end of the year, they should do a profile of what the entrants achieved - in terms of NVQ levels or other qualifications.
"We could start matching those pictorially, without getting into the problem of numbers. People such as inspectors and the public at large could then start saying that a particular college had done well, taking into account its entry profile."
Colleges have long criticised the league tables for forcing them to be measured against selective school sixth forms and failing to recognise the achievements of their many adult learners. But principals admit privately that the tables are a useful way of gauging performance - particularly if compared with the previous year's rankings and the position of neighbouring colleges.
This year's tables show the usual clutch of sixth-form and provincial colleges heading the list for students achieving two or more A and AS levels, with inner city and technical colleges at the bottom. Vocational qualification rankings show a more mixed bag, but again it tends to be the inner-city colleges which fare worst.
This comes as no surprise to Tony Colton, principal of Matthew Bolton College in Birmingham. He said: "The tables don't take into account the extra resources that need to go into many urban students. We are interested in some kind of table but one that gives a broad picture."
David Eade, principal of Barnsley College, said: "The general public think it's just colleges making excuses for not doing too well. It is more than that." But he said colleges should still have to explain why their students were not coming out with qualifications. "It's not fair for colleges always to be blaming their intake," he said.
Alternative methods for measuring college achievement have been discussed for some time.
One of the most useful is likely to be new performance indicators, giving detailed information about achievement, retention and financial efficiency in each college. They were due to be published next month but are now likely to be postponed until the new year.