On the third Monday of every month Dr Sue, Holex director of policy and external relations, answers your questions, backed by the experience of almost a decade as principal of Canterbury College, in addition to time served in senior civil service posts at central government departments covering education and skills.

Question 1:

As part of the college’s teaching and learning quality strategy, we have a system of link governors. I am keen to engage in this part of the governor’s role but find it quite daunting. I have no problem talking to the accountant about risk management, but my mind goes blank when it comes to curriculum and quality matters. What tips do you have?

I can see how you may find this daunting. However, you will find that once you have made the arrangement and met up with programme leaders and course tutors the conversation will flow.

Tutors are always keen to talk about their students and their achievements.

Before you meet, it might be useful to look at the latest Ofsted report and the college’s self-assessment, so that you have some background information and an understanding of the improvement agenda.

It is good practice for there to be some standardisation around link governor visits

It is good practice for there to be some standardisation around link governor visits (the clerk may have a pro-forma or visit form for you to complete).

You may also want to have a quick word with the principal before your visit to see if there are any hot issues you need to be aware of.

It’s best to structure your conversations around where they are now, what’s the vision, how they are progressing on their own improvement plan, what they see as strengths and how they measure their effectiveness — and how they are managing to integrate maths and English.

Link-Governors-Image-web

You may want to ask about progression — where do their students go, what are the links with employers and universities and how do they help their students into employment or further learning?

You may also want to ask what they think are the biggest challenges.

Try to avoid being used as a channel for lobbying for more resources. A good tutor will always take the opportunity to explain why they need new equipment etc, so just be ready for it.

Lastly, try to visit events such as end-of-year shows. Seeing students at work is the most enjoyable part of a governor’s role, so enjoy it.

Tutors will be appreciative that a governor is taking interest in their work.


 

Question 2:

In the light of recent remarks by Ofsted, my local authority (LA) is thinking about reviewing the adult and community learning service governance arrangements and establishing how they fit with the LA scrutinising committees. Can you advise on best practice?

You are right that Ofsted has recently drawn attention to ACL governance, but we need to put it into perspective.

The proportion of providers judged to be good or outstanding for overall effectiveness according to their latest inspection was high at 87 per cent (116 providers were good; four outstanding).

This figure compares well with general FE colleges (77 per cent) and independent learning providers (79 per cent).

When you review the latest reports, the vast majority of learners at local authority providers benefit from well-planned and sometimes inspirational teaching

When you review the latest reports, the vast majority of learners at local authority providers benefit from well-planned and sometimes inspirational teaching, learning and assessment and achieve qualifications as planned or make good progress towards their learning goals.

However, in some instances it has been difficult for inspectors to form a positive opinion of governance, mainly because many of the established forms of governance have been removed or changed.

There are now many different types.

Some services have a traditional governing body with delegated powers from the LA, others have advisory boards which provide the employer and learner voice and some have accountable officers, lead councillor members.

Nearly all have scrutiny committees.

All these types can be effective as long as the body, in whatever structure, has authority to challenge and change, a clear understood identity, and the role is understood and respected by senior executives, managers and staff.


 

Question 3:

I appreciate you have had lots of questions about area reviews but, like many other governors, I am still struggling to decide what is the best sort of partner for us. Could you advise?

First go back to basic principles.

There have now been many words written, data in abundance and lots of advice offered but, when it comes down to it, you need to decide whether you are looking for a partner to enhance the student experience, improve quality and/or make your college more resilient to future funding changes.

If you are already graded as Ofsted ‘good’ you may want a partner who can help you achieve ‘outstanding’

Simply list the issues you want to solve and/or your new vision of the future and then list the characteristics you are looking for in a partner.

If you are already graded as Ofsted ‘good’ you may want a partner who can help you achieve ‘outstanding’.

OFSTED-good-rating-web

If that’s the key issue, you may not need to merge and could consider a strategic partnership with an outstanding college who could help support staff training and the development of learning materials.

If your vision is to move to a technology enabled curriculum, you may want to look for a strategic partner among the universities or in the private sector.

But, if your issue is with your financial position, you may want to consider merging with a partner who can help sustain your future and is experienced in restructuring, right-sizing/down-sizing and financial/curriculum planning.