MPs unswayed by FEDA chief's replies

December 5, 1997

MPs were left unconvinced of the value of the work of the Further Education Development Agency after its chief executive, Stephen Crowne, appeared as a witness before the Commons education and employment select committee inquiry on further education.

Margaret Hodge, chair of the committee, told Mr Crowne that "you leave us very sceptical of what Pounds 10 million and 153 staff are adding in value". She invited him to submit more written evidence if he wished. A similar comment had earlier been made by Teresa May, a Conservative member.

Mr Crowne acknowledged criticisms of FEDA in a Further Education Funding Council inspectors report earlier this year, but said the inspection had been made at an unfortunate time.

"It came close to the end of a prolonged negotiation with the funding council, and less than two months after the inspection we were able to write to every college in the sector to inform them of our strategic priorities," he said.

In an uneasy session, members pressed Mr Crowne for detailed comment or opinion on a succession of further education issues and frequently retired dissatisfied with generalised answers.

Asked by Labour's Valerie Davey about student drop-out rates, he said that FEDA research showed that students' perception of quality of teaching and general treatment was as important as levels of student support.

Mr Crowne said that in issuing advice on good practice to colleges, FEDA did not want to suggest that there is only one way to do things.

Pressed on governance issues, Mr Crowne said responsibility for governors lay outside FEDA's terms of reference, and he declined Liberal Democrat Don Foster's invitation to say whether staff and student groups and agencies such as Training and Enterprise Councils should have automatic representation on governing bodies. However, he did say that colleges should develop long-term strategies for recruiting governors.

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