The former head of skills investment at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Bis) has warned that entrepreneurial education in colleges must be underpinned by good governance.

Dr Susan Pember, now education and management adviser to the Association of Colleges, told delegates at the Gazelle Annual Summit on Tuesday (May 13) that moves to make FE institutions more enterprising “need to be built on really sound accountability systems”.

Dr Susan Pember

Dr Susan Pember

She said: “My message to you is probably what some of you don’t want to hear but I’m going to say it anyway.

“I’ve had the privilege of going into colleges up and down the country and I’ve seen some absolutely brilliant stuff but also seen some stuff where if you tried to be entrepreneurial on top of that your college would come crumbling down.”

The question for colleges wanting to be more entrepreneurial, she said, was “how do you balance risk and compliance?”

“It’s wrong, isn’t it?” she told the audience at assembled at London HQ of BIS.

“When you think of entrepreneurial things, you think of it as being not bureaucratic, not regulatory and not having rules and regulations.

“However, if you’ve got a really sound base… then it’s easy to move up.”

She pointed to her experience of visiting good and outstanding private providers and colleges.

“They were very clear about their governance structures, and by being clear about your governance structures, you give staff the freedom to innovate,” she said.

Dr Pember’s comments came the same week the Inspiring Governors Alliance, a group dedicated to encouraging high-calibre people to become governors, was launched and followed publication of the Leadership of teaching, learning and assessment by governors report by 157 Groups and Ofsted [see for coverage of both].

Skills Minister Matthew Hancock also spoke at the conference.

He told FE Week that for him, enterprising colleges were “innovative, self-confident, have strong leadership and good governors that hold the feet to the fire of principals and holds them to account for what they deliver.”
But, he said, he was unwilling to define what exactly an entrepreneurial college was.

“The great thing about entrepreneurial colleges is there’s so many different ways to define it that I wouldn’t want to restrict that,” he said.

“What I’m trying to do is release the constraints that are put… onto colleges so that they can respond to the needs of their learners and crucially, be held to account for what they achieve.”

Click here to read the Gazelle summit expert pieces from Signe Sutherland and Sharron Robbie