FE foundation considers priorities at first board meeting

The new Education and Training Foundation laid out key priorities in its first board meeting on Monday.

The organisation, formerly known as the FE Guild, also agreed to begin the search for key figures including an independent chair, permanent chief executive, and independent chair of the audit committee.

David Hughes, who chaired the foundation’s steering group and who has been asked by the board to serve as interim independent chair, described the meeting as “a really, really good start”.

“There was quite a lot of discussion, quite helpfully I think, about how we wanted to make this organisation work,” he said.

Mr Hughes, who is also chief executive of National Institute of Continuing Adult Education (Niace), added: “We want it to be very embedded in the sector, using expert panels, bringing in people who are delivering very high quality learning and helping them spread their expertise and people learning from that rather than putting out invitations to tender for things and getting consultants.”

The seven men and women on the board also discussed the foundation’s learner and workforce representation. Mr Hughes said the foundation would work with Niace and the National Union of Students to look at the issue.

“We agreed the principle that we want to give that kind of learner perspective but it’s difficult to think of a sensible way of doing that, thinking about the support that someone might need to participate,” he said.

“Then there’s the workforce where we all talk to the unions and Institute for Learning and others to ask ‘what is the best way to have somebody from the workforce who has something to offer for the board?’.”

He added: “We also decided to search for an independent person who would chair the audit committee — a body that’s dispersing £18m in fund needs to have proper probity.”

Mr Hughes also confirmed he would not be seeking to take on the role of independent chair permanently.

“Having an independent person steering it from the business who’s got contacts in that world could be quite powerful, because part of the foundation’s remit is about reach and reputation,” he said.

One of the key priorities for the foundation will be to take forward elements of the recommendations made the by Commission on Adult Vocational Teaching and Learning (CAVTL).

Mr Hughes said the board had spoken to the commission’s chair, Frank McLoughlin, to find out which were the “most important and appropriate areas for the foundation to take forward”.

He said there had been “really positive discussions” over the foundation’s role in developing the commission’s recommendations on higher quality maths and English provision in vocational training, Teach Too, where professionals in vocational fields would be encouraged to teach for a few hours a week a ‘two-way street’ collaboration between training providers and employers and the idea of a Vocational and Education Training centre.

“Many of the recommendations were core business for the foundation and will be embedded into the business plan that the foundation develops,” said Mr Hughes.

“We are very keen to get moving on some of those things very quickly.”

Other priorities identified for the foundation’s immediate future would include establishing stronger communication with the sector.

Mr Hughes said: “We have to engage with people in the sector, which is thousands of people, to explain what it is the foundation is trying to achieve and how it’s trying to achieve it … because the expectations on it are probably enormous in some ways and I think there’s a lot of scepticism, which is understandable of new body that doesn’t exist yet.”

The foundation will officially begin to be funded from August 1, when funding for the Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS) ends.

Mr Hughes confirmed the foundation would be taking over support for LSIS’ clerks’ training and the current cohort on the senior leadership development programme, as well as the excellence gateway, which he said the foundation would “continue and try to review and develop going forward”.

He added discussions over the fate of other LSIS materials were ongoing.

Further priorities for the foundation were outlined in April in a letter from Skills Minister Matthew Hancock to Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, obtained through a Freedom of Information request by FE Week.

These include supporting the FE sector to achieve:

  • More rigorous and challenging apprenticeship programmes, particularly at level three and above
  • Improved responsiveness employer, community and learner needs
  • The delivery of high quality traineeships
  • Strong governance with a relentless focus on the quality of teaching, learning and assessment
  • More effective and innovative teaching in priority areas including English and maths
  • Measurable progress in implementing the key recommendations from CAVTL, including Teach Too
  • More teachers and assessors with higher levels of current occupational and subject knowledge
  • Better focussed research which has a greater impact on improving teaching, learning and assessment
  • Increased employer engagement and active involvement in all stages of the learning process from design to delivery
  • Easily accessible, high quality learning materials and resources in key areas, sourced through an effective on-line knowledge system, and widely adopted by practitioners to enhance learning
  • Skills competitions having greater impact in improving overall standards of vocational learning
  • Promote best practice for local partnership working with other government agencies as well as employers