Gazelle has responded to long-running criticism that its £35k membership fee, along with other costs, could not be justified in the absence of any return on investment analysis, including any proof that membership affected Ofsted grades. Fintan Donohue explains how such criticism has changed the organisation.

The Gazelle Colleges Group commissioned an analysis of its impact from an independent research organisation (whose members regularly write as expert commentators for FE Week) late last year.

It provided a significant amount of detail about the activity of the group and concluded that it had a positive impact on members and the wider sector.

However, in common with criticism levelled by FE Week, it also said the group needed to change — in particular to develop how we measure and demonstrate impact, to increase efficiency and improve the clarity of communications and structure.

We took those criticisms on board and launched a review, led by a working group of members, and a series of recommendations was put to the wider membership.

As a result the membership fee has been cut in half and the structure streamlined.

Going forward there will be specific impact measures built into all activity so that the group can measure value more rigorously and report on return on investment (ROI) specifically.

The focus of Gazelle colleges will stay the same, working to improve the chances of young people getting a job and to help colleges diversify their income through enterprise.

Individual colleges have a long history of investing in enterprise, albeit under different banners. Gazelle Colleges Group is a non-profit membership group that has sought to pool costs in this area in order to provide better value. Whatever has been achieved over the past four years has only been possible because member colleges worked together.

Over the past four years 5,000 students have gained new skills from the group’s three enterprise competitions, and another 1,000 have attended national enterprise conferences and networking events.

We took criticisms on board and launched a review, led by a working group of members, and a series of recommendations was put to the wider membership

Barking & Dagenham College lecturer Andy Duffy, trained in Design Thinking with the Gazelle Colleges Group, a methodology which provides a new approach to curriculum design and delivery.

Andy said the “advanced training in Design Thinking with other teachers from across the Gazelle Colleges network has enabled me to bring a new approach to curriculum design and delivery which is better preparing our students for employment/self-employment”.

Andy will be delivering a seminar in Finland in November to share this best practice.

He is not alone. Around 1,400 member college lecturers and 260 member college curriculum managers have engaged in professional training through Gazelle Colleges Group that has changed practice in many colleges.

The group continues to attract support in the form of sponsorship from other organisations passionate about student employability and enterprise — thus minimising cost to colleges and maximising potential. Entrepreneurs and employers of the highest calibre provide free conference input, mentoring and advice because they want to see students embrace enterprise alongside other skills in our colleges.

Autumn activities include new investigative research into commercial capacity and the commercial challenges facing our sector, sponsored by Wickland-Westcott, and a science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) teaching and learning workshop in November.

The fourth Gazelle Market Maker competition, sponsored by Hewlett Packard, will take place in December. We are also sharing the results of the 18 projects as part of the Learning Futures programme managed by Gazelle on behalf of the Education and Training Foundation.

The decline in membership is of course disappointing, but understandable given the significant pressures facing most colleges. By sharing resources and investing collectively there’s no reason why, even as a smaller group, the group can’t do useful work in this area for themselves and the wider sector.