Wicks warns colleges

June 9, 2000

Too many further education colleges are "coasting" along in quality and standards, lifelong learning minister Malcolm Wicks warned this week.

Inspection reports showed a growing number of colleges happy to occupy the middle ground, particularly in student retention and achievement levels, he said.

Addressing a meeting to launch the 1998-99 annual report of the Further Education Funding Council's quality assessment committee, Mr Wicks said institutions could not afford to be complacent with the creation of a new funding and inspection regime.

"We still need to see a rise in standards, particularly achievement. There are too many coasting colleges and complacency.

"Perhaps in the past we have focused too much on the stars in the sector and those who are struggling, but not enough attention has been paid to the middle."

Mr Wicks's comments were echoed by Jim Donaldson, FEFC's chief inspector. He said a "substantial" number of colleges "could do better. Colleges have to look at benchmarks and see what is being achieved elsewhere."

The report commends FEFC's benchmarking of standards and target setting for raising levels of achievement and retention. Colleges were committed to a target of 2 per cent improvement in retention rates and 3 per cent in achievement levels. Results will be out this summer.

But the report warns that "student retention may suffer as colleges strive to raise levels of achievement and widen participation".

Bob Reid, committee chairman, said it was "all too easy to forget that most colleges are well run".

David Gibson, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said:

"Sometimes it seems like you can't win. There is bound to be more in the middle ground when many have come up from the lower levels."

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