Minister in Elite tag ‘hint’ after Premier Colleges launch

A “new breed of elite colleges” appears to have been hinted at in the same week as a group of providers have branded themselves Premier Colleges.

Skills Minister Matthew Hancock mentioned the word “elite” four times in a recent speech about the future of colleges.

And it is understood Mr Hancock is considering official use of the term ‘elite college’ for the best performing, which could require a particular specialism or a high level of employer engagement.

However, a spokesperson at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills declined to comment on whether there were plans for such a new college brand.

But Mr Hancock’s comments have sparked concerns about FE appearing to become an elitist sector, with 157 Group executive director Lynne Sedgmore saying she was “very cautious” about the term.

Nevertheless, Mr Hancock’s reference to “elite colleges” came during a speech to the Edge Foundation on Tuesday, where he explained his vision for the future of FE.

In his speech, Mr Hancock said: “I want to see the emergence of a new breed of elite colleges, which lead the nation — indeed lead the world — in their area. I want to talk to you today about what reform looks like.

“About what we’ve done so far and what we’re changing. And in particular, the role colleges can play — including as elite institutions, leaders in their communities.”

Lynne Sedgmore, executive director of the 157 Group, said: “FE colleges are absolutely dedicated to maintaining the highest possible standards.

“But I’m very cautious about using the word elite — with all its connotations about exclusiveness — in a sector that is fundamentally based on social mobility, social inclusion and creating opportunities for all.”

The minister’s comments came as Skills Show sponsors grouped together to brand themselves Premier Colleges.

A Skills Show spokesperson told FE Week: “A select group of 20 of the UK’s leading and highly responsive colleges and a university, with vocational education and training at the heart of their businesses, have joined forces to form a new working association called Premier Colleges”.

The Skills Show’s new premier sponsor, include:

  • Bedford College
  • Birmingham Metropolitan College
  • Bournville College
  • Burton & South Derbyshire College
  • Central Campus – Sandwell College
  • City of Wolverhampton College
  • Derby College
  • Dudley College
  • North Warwickshire & Hinckley College
  • Oxford & Cherwell Valley College
  • Peterborough Regional College
  • Solihull College
  • South and City College Birmingham
  • South Leicestershire College
  • South Staffordshire College
  • Stephenson College
  • Stoke on Trent College
  • University College Birmingham
  • Walsall College
  • Warwickshire College

All but three of the sponsors are from the Midlands.

The spokesperson added: “The colleges involved in the Premier Colleges group have not been selected — they have voluntarily invested in the [Skills] show as a public demonstration of what they contribute to FE and their commitment to the promotion of the sector,” she said.

She added: “All colleges in the group collectively cover a wide geographical area — beyond the Midlands — and all have supporting The Skills Show as a key motivation, among others that are largely specific to their individual colleges.”

The national Skills Show is being held at the NEC Birmingham on November 14 to 16.