By Daniel Hunter

Matthew Hancock, the Skills Minister, set out £214 million investment in 47 colleges across the country, alongside plans for a more rigorous and responsive skills system.

The government’s new skills strategy, Rigour and Responsiveness in Skills, includes stronger action to support the majority of good and outstanding colleges, and new plans to intervene where colleges are failing learners.

Ofsted currently judges two-thirds of colleges to be ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ however 4 per cent are judged to be inadequate.

A new FE Commissioner will protect learners by intervening as soon as a college falls in to the inadequate category or fails financially and will report directly to Ministers advising on a number of potential interventions including:

- A new ‘Administered College’ status, in which colleges will lose freedoms to take actions such as staff changes, expenditure or transfer of assets

- The replacement of some or all of the governing body; and or
College dissolution.

For colleges who require improvement Ofsted will provide enhanced support and work with them on a tailored development plan.

Skills Minister Matthew Hancock said: “Today I will publish Rigour and Responsiveness in Skills which sets out how we are reforming our skills system to help people reach their potential to compete in the global race.

“We will invest in facilities, champion excellent provision and take tough action to tackle inadequate colleges.

“We are funding 47 colleges across England to ensure they have first rate facilities.

“And while our further education sector offers world class provision, in the global race we must and will tackle poor performance.

“It is wholly unacceptable that nearly one and half million learners are not receiving teaching that is rated as ’Good’.

“Where colleges are failing learners we will be knocking on their doors and take swift and effective action. It is a dereliction of duty to let failing colleges teach young people. We will not fail in our duty to act.

“All providers should meet tough standards of rigour and responsiveness. Through these reforms we will be able to intervene without hesitation where they fall short.”

Martin Doel, AoC Chief Executive, said: "This new investment in college capital is a very welcome acknowledgement of their contribution to economic recovery; new buildings and facilities improve the student experience and help attract further investment from business.

"All colleges strive to improve and we will continue to discuss with government how best to intervene on the rare occasions when they fail."

157 Group Executive Director Lynne Sedgmore said: “The 157 Group is committed to ensuring the highest quality of provision in FE colleges and supports the development of a tough but fair approach to intervention when underperformance is identified.

“Like the 'boiling frog' in Charles Handy's work, it is possible for colleges to not respond to the demands of change until things have already got too 'hot'.

“An FE Commissioner with a clear remit and a due process for intervening in the best interests of students and all stakeholders will help such colleges to get out of the boiling water before it is too late. For the reputation of the sector, that has to be good.”

The FE Commissioner will intervene if providers fail one of three measures:

- An ‘Inadequate’ Ofsted inspection
- Failure to meet minimum standards of performance (currently based on learner success rates) or
- Failing financial health or control.

The commissioner will be able to draw together proposals for future provision and will be expected to look creatively to identify sustainable, high quality solutions. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will announce plans for appointing an FE commissioner after the Easter period.

Interventions will aim to deliver significant change to learners and to restore quality to well above the intervention performance thresholds, usually within 12 months.

The £77 million new capital funding will be matched with £137 million investment from colleges and has been targeted at those colleges in the greatest need of help and those that can support growth in the economy.

It will be allocated through the Skills Funding Agency enabling projects ranging from a construction training centre to an automotive technology hub.

This funding is in addition to the £110 million of the Enhanced Renewal Grant (ERG3) funding for 56 colleges announced in November and means that in 2012-13, the government has invested £187 million alongside college investment of £439 million to enable important capital works in excess of £625 million.

Kim Thorneywork, Skills Funding Agency Chief Executive said: “Through managing the application process, we saw some very exciting, creative and competitive bids for the Enhanced Renewal Grant this year. “These 47 colleges will now be able to bring their proposals to life and help enhance the career and employment opportunities for individuals, as well as the communities the colleges serve.”

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