Memorandum from Barbara Walsh (ILA 36)
LONGRIDGE TEACHING CENTRE, PRESTON
1. I have run the above business for almost
nine years. I am a fully qualified teacher with over 20 years'
experience, much of which was spent as a full-time college lecturer.
I own the business premises and all I have ever expected of the
venture is a modest income. Like all teachers, I see my role as
a "labour of love", and my colleagues have an equally
altruistic approach to the job. Our Centre, whilst small, is well-known
and well-regarded locally.
2. From 1996 to 1999, we operated as franchisees
affiliated to a local FE College. We were subjected to an inspection
by the FEFC (because we had been chosen by the College to represent
them as an example of good practice) and three-monthly "spot-checks".
We had regular face-to-face meetings at the College and developed
an excellent working relationship with the Franchise Manager and
his staff and the Head of IT. We eventually took the decision
to pull out because the cost of administration began to outweigh
the ever-diminishing funding.
3. Once the Individual Learning Account
Centre started, in September 2000, we had no choice but to join
if we wanted to remain competitive. When we first dealt with them,
we were taken aback by their simplistic, prescribed approach:
if we had any queries, we would ring the Centre and would be given
a "yes" or "no" answer with little or no explanation
and we were given the impression that any further questions were
unwelcome. The people we talked to seemed very young and had an
impersonal call-centre approach to the job. (This was in direct
contrast to the friendly, professional, "colleague"
style that we had become accustomed to with the College.) Sometimes,
we would be given an answer which seemed improbable so we would
ring again and be given a totally different answer. The only thing
to do in those circumstances was to ring once again and adopt
the two-out-of-three answer.
4. We became increasingly aware that not
all providers were as altruistic as we were, and once we voiced
concern over the fact that some people were advertising "free"
ILA courses in the national press when they were supposed to be
asking for a percentage from the student. The response was non-committal,
with a recommendation that we fax our evidence. We did this but
never received a reply.
5. On one occasion, I remember ringing the
ILA Centre about the fact that existing students could obtain
"top-ups" of £50 to their original £150 so
that they could claim the full amount of £200 during the
year. It was simply a matter of the provider keying in the student
details. I said: "There is no way we would do this, but don't
you think the system is wide open to unscrupulous providers who
might just say that their past students wanted top-ups when those
students knew nothing about them?" The young lady at the
end of the line went silent for a few seconds and it was obvious
that she was grappling with the concept. Slowly, she began to
interpret what I was saying and promised she would investigate
this. I never discovered the outcome.
6. All we ever wanted to do was to abide
by the rules so that we would be squeaky clean in the audit (which
we fully expected but, in the event, never materialised). We became
frequent callers to the ILA Centre telephone line as we (along
with everyone else) received more and more ambiguous emails from
them. But we never actually met anyone, still less learned of
anyone's name so that we could build some kind of human relationship.
7 February 2002