Keeping the plates spinning
Area reviews are quite rightly at the top of a lot of college agendas, particularly for governing bodies. But if last week’s Governors’ Summit reminded us of anything, it was that there is still an important day job that needs to continue. Apprenticeships, for example. Both the Minister for Skills, Nick Boles MP, and the Prime Minister’s Apprenticeship Champion, Nadhim Zahawi MP, attended the summit and spoke about how critical it is for colleges to be part of apprenticeship delivery. Nick Boles highlighted that the only part of the education budget which will be growing over the next few years is for apprenticeships. His aim is for colleges, who currently provide about a third of apprenticeship training, to provide two thirds. He laid down the gauntlet to governors to make sure this was part of the future challenge to their college. Alongside this, there remain questions about the apprenticeship levy and how it will operate. From April 2017, when the levy will be introduced, colleges will need to be on the front foot and make sure they are engaging with employers fully. But the levy is certainly something that is growing in the minds of college governors, senior management teams and employers. Next week’s Budget may answer some of the questions about what it will look like and how it will be implemented. The coming challenges of localism and devolution are also high on the agenda. Localism is an evolving concept. At its heart, it is about creating a shift of power from central government towards local people. Professor Ewart Keep, from the University of Oxford is leading a project for the Association of Colleges on this, which aims to identify how college leaders can ensure localism works for colleges, students and the local community. He warned governors that the opportunities were balanced by risks, including how a mixture of control at a national level and local variations could lead to significant differences in quality, as has happened with colleges in Australia. Beyond that, governors face challenges around the new inspection framework from Ofsted, ensuring an effective English and maths provision and new duties for overseeing higher education provision. So alongside keeping an eye on what’s happening in the near future with area reviews, governors in all colleges recognise the importance of other challenges and the need to keep the different plates spinning during a time of change, to meet the needs of students and communities. David Walker is the Director of Governance at the Association of Colleges.