Welcome to my first all-member address to you as President of the Association of Colleges.
I’d like to start by saying a massive thank you. Thank you for your trust, your encouragement, your enthusiasm, your honesty, and your support. As a college principal of 14 years I thought I’d seen it all, but I really have learnt so much from so many of you. I’ve had the opportunity to speak at two Select Committees (one on the future of civic universities, and another on coastal communities), as well as meeting with the Number 10 Policy Unit, and I even joined with our campaign partners to deliver a Valentine’s Day card to the Chancellor. It’s certainly not been dull this far!
I hope you won’t be surprised to know that my core focus as AoC President has been on the Love Our Colleges campaign to secure better investment in further education. With so much going on, we aren’t very good at taking a step back and reminding ourselves of how far we’ve come. So please do indulge me a moment.
Since September 2018, we’ve had over 350 pieces of press, in most major publications and in all parts of the country, on the vital role that colleges play and the need to better invest in them; 3,000 people took to the streets of Westminster to show their support; 70,000 people have signed a petition, led by students at Brockenhurst College, calling on the government to invest and triggered a Westminster Hall Debate where 65+ MPs debated the value of FE; The Minister has told us that she has received over 100 letters from colleagues about the issue;165 MPs from four major parties co-signed a letter calling on the Chancellor to better fund FE; and we have had questions in PMQs and in Education Questions.
Travelling through the country, speaking to politicians, journalists, businesses and others, I sense real growing momentum for our cause – and from less traditional sources. Just last week we had The Times cover our story about the risk to the country’s skills and productivity if T Levels aren’t fully funded, whilst the ex-Leader of the Conservative Party, Iain Duncan Smith wrote an opinion piece for The Telegraph about the urgent need to fund FE.
I truly believe that we are gaining so much traction because of the brilliant work that you and your teams and students are doing day in and day out. You have taken the campaign to some weird and wonderful places and it’s so exciting to see. Speaking of which….
Spring Statement social media challenge
We are now two weeks out from the Spring Statement (unless things drastically change in Westminster, as they seem to do daily). To build some momentum, I would like to set you a challenge…
I want us to continue to showcase how central colleges are to the success of local and national economies. To do this, I’d love as many colleges as possible to:
- take wacky and wonderful pictures of students learning or training and realising their career ambitions
- upload them onto your social media channels, tagging AoC (@aoc_info), your local MP(s), and local newspaper
- perhaps use a caption something along the lines of “Students at XXXX College are the next generation of... (engineers, HGV drivers, chefs, farmers, etc…)”
- do the same with your staff, captioning it “Staff at XXXX College are developing the next generation of…”
- Don’t forget to use the hashtag #LoveOurColleges
- If you get some great photos, you might also be able to send them to your local paper, or use them in your general marketing
- It would be even better if you could engage your alumni to take and share some photos too.
Remember, the weirder, funnier, more outside of the box, the better. I can’t wait to see what you come up with.
CSR and Campaigning guides
As all roads to the Comprehensive Spending Review, we need to keep the energy up. After meeting with so many of you, and convening a brand-new Campaigns and Influencing Advisory Group, we have listened and today we are launching some great new resources
You can download these and more on the Love Our Colleges website. Things are changing at quite a rapid speed and we do envision these being living, breathing documents that we change regularly to adapt to circumstance, so do keep checking the website (and we will make sure we update you when things have been added). I know how very busy you are, but you really are making a massive difference.
When putting my trilby in the ring for the role of AoC President, I was clear that I wanted to prioritise student voice in AoC and FE sector work. After all, they are the reason we do what we do. It’s been such a pleasure working on this, strengthening our relationship with NUS and student unions across the country, and building on the brilliant work of AoC Sport. I’ve especially enjoyed meeting with students, including those at Harlow College to find out more about their close relationship with the Stansted Airport Group, and speaking to NUS student representatives at NUS’s annual FEstival conference.
There has been so much going on in further education. One of the most exciting for me is the introduction of the new Ofsted inspection framework. I’ve had some very productive meetings and conversations with Amanda Spielman - she is a very powerful supporter of our sector. It has been refreshing to see HM Chief Inspector being so vocal about the power of colleges and the need to fund them properly. We are currently planning some joint college visits when the new framework pilots get going.
There have been lots going on at AoC too, including:
- Policy Groups – there have been lots of meetings and lots discussed and agreed, and we’re constantly looking at how they operate to make sure they’re as useful to the sector as they need to be
- We’ve partnered with Tes to deliver the AoC Beacon Awards at the Tes FE Awards (I hope to see lots of you there!)
- AoC Create has undertaken a review and we are starting to introduce new products and events to better meet the needs of the sector. I’m always keen to know how we can improve our services to better support you, so if you have any thoughts, do get in touch please, I would be very grateful
- We’ve been boosting our presence with a broader range of external stakeholders, including when I spoke at the Economy Conference at the Bank of England, and five more events before Easter
This year is the 50th anniversary of the moon landings, and since last week we saw the super moon, I keep thinking of a quote from JFK which reminds me very much of the challenge facing us, and the reason that we do what we do:
“We choose to go to the Moon...We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.” – JFK
And that is where we find ourselves; unwilling to postpone, intending to win.
I hope you and your governors, staff and students have an excellent March and run into Easter and then enjoy a well-earned break. At AoC Conference, I recommended Paddington 2 as the perfect film for December, and I now have an Easter recommendation for you. ‘Too Fast to Think’ is a brilliant book by Chris Lewis, which, in fun ways, allows us to give ourselves permission to do something different and to rediscover the creativity and fun in our professional lives. It even has a lovely spring-inspired yellow cover. Enjoy.
Best wishes and a massive thank you for all that you do for our communities, our businesses, and most importantly our students.
President, Association of Colleges