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Recognising the value of colleges

22 May 2017

As a professional interim I have worked across a range of organisations over the last seven years and it’s great to be back working in education, particularly at a time when we have a General Election which is focused on opportunities for the UK in a post-Brexit world. Of course the policy priorities and funding requirements for further education (FE) are always changing and initially I wondered how long it would take me to catch up. But unsurprisingly, among all the change there was also a lot which was familiar – the requirement to work more closely with employers, the lack of real investment in FE, the review of colleges and recommendations for more mergers to ensure financial sustainability. In essence, lots of continued tinkering with the FE system. And yet now, with this election, there does seem to be a real sense of the opportunities for colleges in a post-Brexit world. Our requirement to be a nation self-sufficient in skills is a major political issue and one which has a more pressing sense of urgency with Brexit on the horizon. FE is coming onto centre stage, as this election helps to shape the post-Brexit future for the UK, and all of the main political parties seem to recognise that colleges are key partners in the delivery of trained, skilled young people and adults who can contribute positively to our future society with the necessary increase in productivity and economic growth required. At AoC Create we provide a range of services for our college members and for the wider FE sector. This year we have been busy supporting colleges at various stages of the area reviews through our interim and consultancy services. The significant structural change which is resulting from many of the reviews is important in order to ensure the financial sustainability of the college. But it seems to me that very few of the reviews have met their initial aims and enabled the colleges to fulfil their role as strategic partners within their areas. Neither have they really generated better local engagement between colleges, policy makers and employers across the local area. The newly merged colleges and evolving group structures within the sector is also requiring a change in leadership skills. At AoC Create we are working closely with college boards and leadership teams to ensure they have the people, skillsets and resources required to deliver against their vision and strategy. All of this is vital in implementing organisation change successfully but once in place, the sector needs to time to embed the changes, to build strong colleges and institutions, it needs a skills strategy with investment for every part of the country and it needs stability to build quality apprenticeships for young people and employers As an interim, I always enjoy working with new clients. It is vital to take time to listen to what the issues are and to talk to those doing the job to understand where they believe the solutions lie. It’s only by engaging with the people you are working that you will achieve any long lasting change. So if this election really is different, if it is about shaping our future in a fundamentally different way to any other election in my voting lifetime, then I hope it really will result in a government committed to building a strong, stable and successful college system. Whatever the political persuasion, the next Government must recognise the value colleges bring to achieving the economic vision of the UK post-Brexit and works effectively with colleges to plan how to deliver this vision. And, once the plan is in place, it has the confidence to stand back and allow colleges to get on with it. Hillary Clifford is the Interim Managing Director of AoC Create