Colleges have "much more to do" before the government can be confident that students are getting proper learning opportunities, further education funding chiefs have warned, writes Phil Baty.
In a review of the inspection reports of 134 colleges, the Further Education Funding Council's quality assessment committee said that colleges are failing to monitor students' retention and achievement properly, while governors are failing to identify and tackle weaknesses.
"There is irrefutable evidence," the committee warned, "that a few colleges consistently fail to provide an adequate quality of education for their students".
As in its report last year, the committee found that colleges were being too complacent in their quality self-assessments. "At present," the committee said, "college staff do not generally take sufficient account of mediocre or poor student retention and achievement when assessing their own provision."
Most of the 9,000 lessons observed during the 1997-98 inspection period were of good quality, the committee reported, with 19 per cent judged to be excellent, and only about 6 per cent considered to be unsatisfactory. But almost a third of lessons were
merely "satisfactory", with weaknesses.
The committee found that the quality of lessons delivered by part-time teachers was worse than those of their full-time counterparts. Although the rapid growth in the use of part-timers, and the use of agency staff, "should not, in itself, be detrimental to the education offered by colleges", the committee said, the sector needed to "fully recognise" the consequences of the shift in employment packages.
Part-time teachers should be given more training and professional development opportunities, it said.
Poor standards of management, governance and quality assurance were again highlighted in the report. The Further Education Funding Council itself had to improve, the committee noted. Its inspectorate was often too slow in settling colleges' appeals against quality judgements. The committee said that new public funds for the sector will help improve the situation. "Although financial management is still a significant challenge for many colleges," it said, "the respite from the stringent efficiency demands should help the sector concentrate on the government's priorities and, in particular, on raising standards.