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Government's Productivity Plan and Area Reviews - Implications for Governors

18 June 2019

The Government’s Productivity Plan, “Fixing the Foundations”, was announced on 10 July. The Plan has significant implications for FE and Sixth Form Colleges and their Governing bodies. Amongst a raft of measures, the Plan includes a refocussing of Professional and technical education provision to deliver higher level skills employers need and inviting some colleges to become ‘prestigious Institutes of Technology’ to deliver high-standard provision at levels 3, 4 and 5, sponsored by employers, registered with professional bodies and aligned with apprenticeship standards. The Plan also announced a review of FE provision at a local level enable areas with the strongest governance and levers to shape provision, building on the skills flexibilities agreed with combined authorities. These devolution packages could be extended to other regions. The government anticipates that many colleges will be invited to specialise according to local economic priorities, to provide better targeted basic skills alongside professional and technical education, and that some will be invited to become Institutes of Technology. Following this restructuring process, the government will enable local involvement in the ongoing commissioning to tailor provision to local economic needs. The Plan also flags a move away from the funding per qualification model for adult learners with provision targeted at training with the greatest impact. Martin Doel, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “We are pleased that the Government recognises that a strong professional and technical education system is critical to increasing productivity. Government is also right to identify the need for well supported and strong institutions to make this happen.” The Government’s approach to Area Reviews was set out in “Reviewing post-16 Education and Training Institutions” published on 20 July. Reviews may either be proactively initiated by a group of institutions in a local area, or by Government where it sees a need to progress rapidly, in particular where there are concerns about quality, capacity, or financial sustainability. Government will work with individual institutions and local authorities / combined local authorities and LEPs in defining the areas to be covered by each review and how the review will be carried out, within a national framework. Each review will be led by a steering group composed of a range of stakeholders within the area; likely members include the chairs of governors of each institution, the FE and Sixth Form College Commissioners, local authorities, Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and Regional Schools Commissioners. Governing bodies will be responsible for deciding whether to accept recommendations relating to their institutions – reflecting their status as independent bodies. If recommendations are accepted, individual institutions will be responsible for implementing changes following a period of consultation. The document states that in considering the outcomes of reviews it is important that college governors give careful weight to the long term stability of their institution and to their broader duty under charity law to comply with their legal obligations as charity trustees in exercising control and management of the administration of the college as a charity. At a national level, Government will work with representative bodies to ensure that proposed reviews are comprehensive and that we share learning from each review as we go. AoC and AoC Governor’s Council will be responding fully to the proposals. Further guidance on Area Reviews will be published later in August following a period of consultation. Martin Doel, said: “The country needs strong, resilient and locally responsive colleges to provide high quality technical and professional education. Colleges will be essential if the recovery is to be sustained through the development of a highly skilled workforce. “The need for such an extensive review of post-16 education and training is partially the result of financial difficulties generated by deep further education funding cuts in recent years. However, the Government is right to also use it as an opportunity to maintain a focus on raising productivity and securing economic growth. “Colleges have and will continue to adapt and we anticipate that they will now be able to evolve in new ways. They are autonomous institutions and we believe they should take the lead in local area reviews of provision. “There will be costs involved in making changes as a result of area reviews and in creating new specialist provision. The two departments and the Treasury will need to consider this in the 2015 spending review because current capital funding arrangements direct money elsewhere.”