It’s been a tough few weeks for the Education and Training Foundation with criticism of its hiring practices and the resignation of chief executive Sir Geoff Hall. But, says David Hughes, there’s still much to be positive about.

In autumn last year I was invited to chair the steering group of membership and sector organisations that had agreed to work together to establish what has become the Education and Training Foundation.

It was to be focused on supporting high quality teaching and learning, leadership and governance and helping develop ‘the system’ to deliver ever better experiences and outcomes for learners.

At that stage I was unsure whether we needed a new body but I was happy to help facilitate debate as we did need to consider it.

I am now sure that there is a need and that the new organisation has a great opportunity to lead research, development and thinking across the diverse organisations in our sector. And I am sure that as a sector we need more investment in system-thinking.

We can now start to openly recruit into the new structure”

We had our first full board meeting as the foundation on August 1, and chairing the steering group and now, for interim only, the board, has been fascinating.

Firstly, the process has been open and inclusive despite the lack of time. This has been supported by all the sector membership bodies and organisations with a stake. With their help we managed to involve leaders, practitioners and stakeholders in developing the ideas, challenges and proposals so far.

Our priorities are clear and uncontroversial — teaching, learning and assessment; vocational education and training; leadership, management and governance; and research and innovation. Agreeing those priorities is the easy bit — delivering impact against them is the big challenge. Because of that we have spent time agreeing the very nature of the new organisation and its role.

We want the foundation to add value to the investment which all organisations in the sector already make in the areas I set out above and not to duplicate or get in the way of what is already working.

So, for instance, the foundation should not attempt to fund or control investment in leadership development because every organisation will be investing in that themselves.

The foundation role might be to support cross-organisation learning, bringing leaders and future leaders together across the sector, researching what works, sign-posting to organisations which are doing it well and supporting new ideas to be tested.

Another role for the Foundation is where there needs to be big change in the sector. The use of technology in learning is a good case in point, as is the set of recommendations in the Commission on Adult Vocational Teaching and Learning or the new policies on English and maths and traineeships.

And these ideas are all fine, if they are what the sector needs. The foundation is a sector-owned body, and that ownership must come from consultations, research and continuing to involve practitioners and leaders in shaping our proposals.

Establishing a new organisation is never easy but when I have done it before we did not have such tight time constraints. That challenge was compounded because of the rapid winding-down of the Learning and Skills Improvement Service and the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations issues impacting on staff.

The latter, for instance, resulted in us not being able to start recruitment of the permanent staff. The good news is that we have a new board and are in the process of recruiting an independent chair and a permanent chief executive. We can now start to openly recruit into the new structure and we can deliver better communications and engagement.

Our delivery plan is on our website and work is under way to commission and procure new activities as well as to review some legacy services such as the excellence gateway.

I have been pleased with the progress made in such a short time and I am confident we will make great strides in the coming months.

David Hughes, interim chair of the Education and Training Foundation and chief executive of the National Institute of
Adult Continuing Education