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Getting your review ducks in a row

12 February 2016

I’ve been to pretty much every part of the country in the past couple of months talking to governors and clerks as well as senior leaders and it’s fair to say that area reviews and the potential shape of the sector has been the common topic of discussion everywhere I’ve gone. What has also become clear is that whether colleges are already in an area review process or some distance away from it, they are increasingly thinking about how they can prepare for the recommendations of area reviews, how they can shape their own futures, and how they can engage with potential partners. This is difficult when, understandably for a new process, there is little by way of practical guidance and collaborations, federations and mergers have been fairly few and far between in recent years. That’s why the Association of Colleges’ Governance Team has been working with our National Leaders of Governance to produce a ‘Guide for Governors and Senior Leaders on new structures -collaborations, federations and mergers'. This has been based on their work with boards considering new structures. Practical experience suggests some common principles for getting started. Before doing anything else, governors and senior leaders need to agree and document the objectives of any new venture – it should aim to achieve more than could be delivered by the parties individually. The next step should be to prepare a position paper on strengths and weaknesses to be shared with all governors and the leadership team – this will be the basis of future decision making so it is important to get it right. Colleges should determine the extra resources needed and whether external support is needed. It is also worth considering setting up a ‘task and finish group’, or steering group, or have a lead member other than the chair to take the strain and to consider applying to the Charity Commission for permission to pay the chair for the extra work involved in reviews. Most chairs in an area review are reporting that the process and the consideration of recommendations is taking two days a week or more of their time. It is important to fully engage staff and student governors early on in the process and it’s a good idea to undertake training and development for all governors before the process starts. The clerk has a potentially crucial role in keeping the whole board informed so determine with your clerk the role they will play – a role that is likely to grow as the process progresses. The clerk is also key to ensuring processes are transparent - keeping good minutes of meetings as well as seeking external advice when you need it. You should also ask your clerk to revisit your instrument and articles and keep in mind the principles in the Code of Good Governance for English Colleges. We are expecting further government guidance on area reviews in the coming weeks including the announcement of the criteria for the new BIS restructuring facility - and at that stage colleges should consider the guidance and see whether it is applicable to them. David Walker is the Director of Governance at the Association of Colleges There are still a few places left at our Area Review and College Structure Conferences where we will be launching the new guide. For NLG support or any other questions please contact