Colleges in clash with LSC leader

April 12, 2002

College heads have again clashed with John Harwood, chief executive of the Learning and Skills Council, this time in a dispute over a proposed national learner survey.

Mr Harwood has accused the Association of Colleges of "promoting misgivings" to its members over the survey plans, which the AoC has said could lead colleges and the LSC to contravene the Data Protection Act.

The LSC has asked colleges to help it survey the views of a sample of 8,000 learners, three times a year for the next five years, to find out what they think about the education and training services they receive.

But the AoC has pointed out to its members that participating colleges could run into legal problems because personal details about the learners will be gathered along with their views, and made anonymous only once the LSC has processed the information.

In a letter to Mr Harwood, John Brennan, the AoC's further education development director explained: "The association was not consulted about the survey. It rapidly became apparent that there were issues which did not appear to have been properly dealt with, principally in relation to data protection. The initial advice to colleges was accordingly to withhold their consent to participation in the survey until these issues were resolved with the council."

Mr Harwood said the Data Protection Commissioner's Office had confirmed that the proposed survey would comply with data protection laws.

He said:"I would have thought that the AoC would have been as anxious as we are to find out the views of learners... It is surely in everyone's interest to promote learning and find out what our clients want."

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