‘Colleges are facing a wave of change’ – I am the ninth President and, I suspect, the ninth to write this in their introductory communication with AoC member colleges.
A new Prime Minister, new Ministers and Chief Inspector, a move of Department, the implementation of the Sainsbury Review, delegation of skills funding in some City Regions, Brexit and a potential additional Spending Review, all create a heady cocktail of new challenges for the sector and for the Association to get to grips with. They sit alongside the existing risks associated with the apprenticeship levy, academisation, area reviews and mergers, not to mention the primary task of recruiting students this autumn and ensuring they succeed.
And of course AoC will shortly have a new Chief Executive to boot. Fortunately, I know the new CEO is as equal to the challenges as the current one. I believe I speak for all principals and governors in giving a very big thank you to Martin Doel and a very warm welcome to David Hughes.
Of course the wave of change presents as many opportunities as challenges. Knowing sector colleagues as well as I do, I am sure that we are already thinking about how best to take advantage of having new faces in key places, capitalise on the increased need for skills training and the benefits of having a technical option that could potentially define a stronger role for colleges in the education and training system and perhaps give us the opportunity to create our ‘signature’ qualification.
The role of President is to act as Ambassador for the sector, to help extend our influence in the formulation of policy, as well as help ensure that the Association is listening to its members’ concerns. The latter will be especially important as we review how to make the organisation work even more effectively, in the context of that ‘heady cocktail’, a sector that is undergoing structural change and more sub-regional funding arrangements. I am also keen that we ensure that sixth form colleges can continue to benefit from AoC membership; we have shared agendas such as inspection, qualifications and funding - colleges of all types are stronger working together.
David and I are committed to get out to all regions in the first term to hear views from Principals and Governors about what our future priorities and approach should be; with as many of these visits as possible happening before the annual conference.
As well as getting out and listening to colleges, my initial priorities will be:
Meeting new policymakers and continuing officials, to ensure they know how colleges can support the delivery of an agenda of a high skill, high productivity economy, which grows its own workforce and operates to the advantage of all and not just the few.
Ensuring there is an understanding amongst stakeholders at national and devolved levels that a stable funding environment for colleges is critical to their ability to deliver these agendas.
Ensuring that stakeholders understand that policy change, and inspection for that matter, need to be delivered in realistic timescales, in ways that add value, are evidence based and transparent, and maintain rather than undermine the strengths that derive from a network of autonomous colleges.
Celebrating the success of colleges, sharing the good news about our brilliant work and ensuring the wider world knows what colleges do and support our work.
As readers know, it is a privilege to serve as a college teacher, support staff, manager, governor or principal – helping our own college to meet the needs of communities and employers and above all transforming the lives of students, through high quality education and training. I am delighted to have the opportunity, after 24 years of senior management, to continue to serve this sector mission as President. I am really looking forward to working with you in the coming 12 months.
Ian Ashman is the President of the Association of Colleges.