New Clause 7

Part of Further Education and Training Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:46 am on 14th June 2007.

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships) 9:46 am, 14th June 2007

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

We have spoken today about bodies that have relationships with FE colleges in all kinds of ways—inspecting, funding, monitoring, planning, setting standards and helping them to improve. They were highlighted by Sir Andrew Foster, whose report into these matters revealed that there were no fewer than 17 such bodies. Since his report, one has gone and   another has been added, so there are still 17. He described that as “a galaxy” of oversight, inspection and accreditation, and argued that they needed to be rationalised, co-ordinated and focused. He went on to say that the inspection regime of FE colleges could be lightened by rationalising the process and moving to a system under which colleges regulated themselves to a much greater extent. He argued for deregulation—self-regulation, I should say—by degree.

The Opposition strongly support that proposition and the new clause should be seen in that context. It proposes that the Secretary of State should

“lay before Parliament an independent report to Parliament on the operational efficiency and effectiveness of organisations responsible for the monitoring and inspection of Further Education institutions.”

It further proposes that the Secretary of State should define those organisations and that

“a report shall be published annually for the first five years after this section comes into force.”

We are anxious to put some independent, empirical information before the House on the size of the galaxy that Sir Andrew Foster has identified. We want to know how many satellites there are in the galaxy and the day-to-day effect that they will have on FE, so that we can move to the lighter-touch regulation—self-regulation—that Andrew Foster recommended and which we support.

We believe that colleges can do more. We think that there is untapped capacity in FE. We celebrate the skills of leadership and teaching in that sector. We suspect—more than that: we are confident—that they feel inhibited from exercising their skills; they feel restricted by bureaucracy and burdened by over-regulation.

For the benefit of the Committee, I shall say more about Andrew Foster’s report. He said:

“Currently, the rigours of proving the quality of provision to the plethora of interested bodies, including qualification bodies, are in danger of detracting from the need for continuous improvement and the ownership of that by FE colleges...The world of FE college oversight is crowded. There is a galaxy of oversight, inspection and accreditation bodies.”

As I said, he argued that they needed to be “rationalised, co-ordinated and focused.”