Setting the scene

What is governance?

There are many definitions of governance but it is generally accepted that the governance of an organisation is an activity distinct from, but complementary to, the management of that organisation.

Two common definitions of governance that bring out this important distinction are ensuring that the organisation does the right things, for the right people, in the right way (governance ensures, management does), and steering not rowing.

The 2013 Pember review Creating Excellence in College Governance (PDF,1.92 MB) defines governance as ‘the act of governing – not managing. Governance provides strategic leadership and direction to an organisation. It sets and approves policies and the budget, defines expectations, delegates powers and verifies performance towards meeting its strategic aims and objectives.’ The review also refers to The Good Governance Standard for Public Services developed in 2004 by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) and the independent research organisation and consultancy firm, OPM.

John Carver's definition is also often quoted: ‘Ownership one step down, not management one step up’. Carver sees the governors of an organisation as the representatives of the owners. In private enterprise these are the shareholders or proprietors of a business; but in the not-for-profit sector, which includes colleges and other charities, they are the people and communities for whose benefit the organisation exists.

From this perspective, the main role of the governing body is to define on the owners’ behalf the benefits that the organisation needs to deliver. The governing body may also set limits on the means which the management can employ to deliver those benefits. It must then put processes in place to satisfy itself that the benefits are being delivered without the use of inappropriate means.

The further education sector

More than five million people in England participate in some form of further education or training, including more than 850,000 apprentices. Of the five million, around one third (1.6 million) are aged between 16 and 18 and around one sixth (800,000) between 19 and 24, while the remainder are 25 or older.

More than half of these learners are enrolled in further education (FE) colleges. There are approximately 250 of these in England, which includes specialist colleges and other specialist institutions. In addition, there are around 1,000 private providers and 200 public providers of further education (the latter mostly local authorities) catering mainly for the 19 to 24 and 25 and above markets. The 2,500 schools with sixth forms and 93 sixth form colleges are significant providers of further education for 16 to 18-year-olds.

The college sector consists of FE colleges and sixth form colleges. Each year, AoC publishes key facts, a succinct annual overview of the sector in terms of facts and figures. AoC regions also produce their own summaries of college activity at regional level.

Colleges’ relationships with Government

Although colleges are independent bodies and do not form part of the public sector, they are regulated and to a large extent funded by central Government. It follows that Government departments, while not directly responsible for the performance of individual colleges, have a measure of control over them, backed up by reserve powers.  Currently the departments with oversight of the sector are the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Department for Education (DfE).

Most of the day-to-day contact that colleges have with BIS and DfE is through their funding agencies, the Skills Funding Agency (SFA), which is part of BIS and funds adult learning, and the Education Funding Agency (EFA), which is part of the DfE and funds learning for students under the age of 18, including learners in academies and maintained school sixth forms as well as in colleges.