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The fast moving world of politics

14 July 2016

Politics can sometimes be accused of moving too slowly. Not at the moment though. Instead of needing to keep up to date with the latest news every day, things are changing by the hour. Last week we faced a summer long Conservative leadership election before we knew who would be the new Prime Minister. This week, we have a new Prime Minister, virtually an all new Cabinet and the partial dissolution of the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. Theresa May certainly hasn’t been slow in making her impact felt. In her first day in office she has named a new Ministerial team which includes Justine Greening replacing Nicky Morgan as the Secretary of State for Education. Not only that, but the Department for Education will now reportedly take over responsibility for skills. So what does this mean for colleges? Importantly, the move to incorporate skills into the Department for Education must not be allowed to preface any loss of focus on technical education as embodied in the recently released Post-16 Skills Plan. Colleges provide high quality technical and professional education preparing over three million students with valuable employability skills. Their strength is in the direct links to businesses which have been cultivated and grown over many years. These links with industry, firmly established within the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, need to be preserved and built upon in the transfer of Departments. Department changes can undoubtedly cause short-term disruption. In the long-term the risk will be that by being in the same department as schools, colleges could be overlooked and with them technical education. The distinctive contribution of colleges as autonomous institutions needs to be recognised and promoted. Colleges are not the same as big schools or academies and should not be treated as such (as sometimes the current Chief Inspector at Ofsted has been wont to do). It will be the job of Justine Greening, as the new Secretary of State for Education, to implement the changes recommended in the Skills Plan and Sainsbury Review. As a former student at Thomas Rotherham College and a winner of the Association of Colleges Gold award, she understands the importance colleges have on the lives of people, so her appointment is particularly welcome. Only time will tell what the impact of the changes will be and we will be keeping a watching brief to make sure colleges are properly recognised. Martin Doel is the Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges.