Select Committee on Education and Skills Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from Barbara Walsh (ILA 36)


  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.

Barbara Walsh

7 February 2002

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