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The College Collective Approach

22 June 2021

by Dr Kate Webb, Managing Director at | Website

The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill headlines include:

  • Putting ‘employers at the heart of post-16 skills’
  • New powers to intervene when colleges are failing to deliver good outcomes for the communities they serve

The purpose of this blog is not to critique policy. Greater employer representation is to be welcomed, and an accountability and support regime is vital as colleges are the guardians of public money and are anchor institutions for their communities. However, the unintended inferences of these two policy headlines, if we are not careful, is that a) colleges and their people are not seen as expert leaders for skills, education and their communities and b) that colleges cannot be trusted to help themselves improve.

In a post-Covid, post-Brexit world, skills will be important. This is a statement that few people would argue with. Employers are best placed to know which skills will be required. But who has the expertise to develop, impart and help people master those skills?

Through this pandemic, colleges have proven themselves as safe havens for the vulnerable and guardians of their community. Colleges have also innovated teaching, learning and assessment methods that work in lockdown in subjects from algebra to zoology, and everything in between.

We all know the adage, those who can’t ‘do’, teach. But consider this: without those who teach, we cannot learn how to ‘do’. In 2014 Harry Collins and Robert Evans wrote about the notion of expertise. They suggested that expertise could be considered along a continuum from ‘beer mat’ or ‘popular’ understanding to ‘contributory expertise’. Most people have a beer mat or popular understanding of teaching. Most of us have experience of a classroom. Some of us may have heard the quote about lighting a fire, rather than filling a bucket, a quote which would feature nicely on a beer mat. But, as hundreds of thousands of parents through lockdown would agree, beer mat expertise does not make you a teacher, nor an expert in skills development.

Our colleges and teachers have expertise that make them valuable contributors to the skills agenda. In our sector DNA are all the codes required to create self-perpetuating improvements as well as contribute to skills planning on a local, regional and national level.

For example, in the Thames Valley, The KWP Ltd worked together with the Chamber of Commerce, other agencies and, critically, college people, to create an application for a Skills Trailblazer. At the time of writing, we do not know whether this application is successful. But, in a sense, that does not matter. What mattered was that in the Thames Valley there was room at the table for all interested parties- and colleges were contributory experts- with the skills to teach skills.

Therefore, Association of Colleges, in partnership with The KWP Ltd is piloting The College Collective.

The College Collective idea is a new, affordable, values-led initiative with two objectives:

  • To sustain collaboration between colleges: a self-reliant alliance for improvement to support colleges, our students and communities.
  • To promote colleges and their people as experts in the spaces of skills, recovery and economic policy.

The idea in a sentence:

To give college managers the opportunity to develop their capabilities as AoC Associate Experts who can support partner colleges and institutions.

This proposal will not offer a solution to all support and consultancy needs. That is not its intention. However, the pilot phase will explore the possibilities for a sector-led consultancy that uses a secondment model to develop AoC Associate Experts who can offer support such as consultancy or coaching to partner colleges; to their peers, as well as to external partners (for example local authorities and chambers of commerce in this new world of the Skills Accelerator).

Why might this be a good idea?

  • Individuals get development and progression
  • Colleges benefit from employees who are trained and accredited AoC Associate Experts with broadened experience from working with other colleges and institutions.
  • Partner colleges benefit from AoC Associate Experts with current experience and knowledge.
  • Income cycles directly back to colleges who contribute AoC Associate Experts
  • AoC Associate Experts and colleges are positioned as experts in the space of skills, recovery and economic policy (at a time of policy and strategy shift).

The College Collective pilot will start in September. We believe that collaboration will be crucial for colleges to thrive moving forwards, and that this pilot, and the learning that comes from it, will be one way of demonstrating system leadership. Those who teach, and learn, and collaborate, will thrive.

If you are interested in finding out more and want to register your interest for the pilot, please email and we will be in touch shortly with more information.

Collins, H. & Evans, R. (2008) Rethinking Expertise. University of Chicago Press