Colleges are losing their focus on student success in favour of other activities, FE Commissioner Dr David Collins has warned.

In his third letter to the FE sector, which comes after he visited his 14th college since his interventions began, Dr Collins (pictured) said senior teams were often seen by staff as “invisible”, often in colleges which had been judged inadequate in terms of leadership and management.

Dr Collins has now visited Barnfield College, Bicton College, City of Bristol College, City of Liverpool College, City of Wolverhampton College, K College, LeSoco, Stockport College, Startford-upon-Avon College, Weymouth College, Norton Radstock College, Bournville College, Guildford College and West Cheshire College.

He said senior leadership teams should provide “a sense of common purpose and teamwork that centres on the experience and success of the learner”.

But he added: “Given the multiple demands on time and resources, sifting out what is really important and at the heart of the institution – student success – seems to be lost sometimes in the pursuit of tangential activity at the expense of the core business.”

Dr Collins also said some colleges were failing to check their performance against other institutions and seek better practice.

He said the best college leadership teams were aware of what was happening in the sector and beyond, and a “deep understanding and solid relationship with business”, but that “in many of the colleges I have visited to date, this has been missing”.

He added: “A key characteristic has been that they have been inward-looking rather than outward-facing.”

He also called on colleges to address the balance when it comes to the skills of their senior leadership teams.

He said: “In the best colleges, senior leadership teams have the range of skills, qualifications and experience to ensure the delivery of high-quality provision while being sufficiently self-confident to implement change or ask for help if needed.

“In a number of colleges where an intervention has taken place there have been highly-skilled individuals at senior levels but the balance hasn’t always been right. Financial expertise in particular has often been missing and there has been a reluctance to seek help from elsewhere.”

Skills Minister Nick Boles said: “A great number of colleges have made significant steps in improving the quality of their provision. However, the FE commissioner rightly highlights that there is more work to do.

“I would encourage all colleges who need to improve performance to look to those who have demonstrated strong leadership, a clear outward looking vision and who nurture and celebrate the success of both staff and learners.

“That way we can help make sure the entire sector is delivering to the highest possible standards.”