Dr Sue, director of policy and external relations at Holex, answers your questions, backed by her experience as principal of Canterbury College and in senior civil service posts in education and skills.

Question One: GCSE resits

I don’t understand why the issue of GCSE resits is so divisive. At the college where I am a governor some senior staff use words like ‘failed policy’ and ‘not appropriate for college students’. However, my son benefited from this policy and is now successfully doing A-Levels at our local secondary school. Why does FE see it in such disdainful terms?

Answer: Like you, I can see the benefits of this policy. It gives a clear and forceful message to young people about the importance of English and maths. I hope it sends a signal down through schools to the younger pupils that you can’t “drop” English and maths and it is best if you take it seriously right now.

It is right that the state will pay for retakes and the data shows that around 27 per cent of those who resit get the equivalent of a grade C pass. However, for 70% of the young people who resit, it does not lead to an improvement in grade and it is these young people the sector is worried about.

Most colleges undertake some form of initial assessment and can identify those students likely to get a grade C pass and those who couldn’t. Likewise, they will know if students are very far away from getting a grade C and can’t do it in one year on the hours the government is willing to fund.

In many cases, students haven’t progressed all the way through secondary school and so are unlikely to do so with the same style of teaching that is expected on a GCSE programme. These young people need re-motivating, intensive support and different content, based on applied English or maths. Merely forcing such students to resit GCSEs is not appropriate and that is why there is such an outcry.


Question Two: Principals’ remuneration

My college has asked me to chair their new remuneration committee, which will set the salaries for senior post holders (including the principal and clerk). Previously this was done by the chair of governors but it was not very transparent and we want to move to a more structured format. What advice can you give on setting up, monitoring and benchmarks?


It is excellent the governing body has adopted this approach, which is increasingly seen as good practice.

The first thing is to familiarise yourselves with the relevant college documents including: instrument and articles of governance; conditions of services for senior post holders; any existing performance policies; and past appraisals and salaries.

You will also need access to the national senior staff benchmarking exercise to review salary levels against other colleges of similar size and performance. For year one, you will use what were set as performance criteria for that reporting year but you should start to decide your performance goals for the next year – to be set out and agreed at least two months before that reporting year begins.

If the college’s largest student cohort is 16-19, you may want to consider the new DfE performance data. This is the information on which DfE will monitor schools, sixth form colleges and GFE colleges. DfE is requiring benchmark data under five headline measures which are: progress; attainment; English and maths progress; retention; and destinations.

You will also need to consider financial performance and student and employer satisfaction. Plus, you may want to add new performance targets such as the college’s share of the apprenticeship market.

The full governing body will need to sign off any recommendations.

Be sensitive to whether college staff are receiving any pay rises and also public views regarding public sector CEO pay rises. The rule of thumb is there must be a very good reason if your principal is to be paid a salary more than the prime minister’s £143,462.

Remember the amount paid to a CEO will get into the public domain and the number quoted will be pay plus pension contributions and any other benefits. So ensure you see the full package and not just the base salary – and as chair be ready to justify it.