Dr Sue, director of policy and external relations at Holex, answers your questions on college governance, backed by her experience as principal of Canterbury College and in senior civil service posts in education and skills.
Question One: GCSE grade 5
You have previously urged colleges to set the new GCSE grade 5 as their entry criteria for English and maths. We debated the issue but went with management’s recommendation of grade 4. Were we wrong?
Answer: I wouldn’t go as far to say you were wrong and I don’t think a single college in an area can take a solitary stance. This has to be done with all your feeder schools and other colleges. However, I think it is a lost opportunity to collectively raise achievement.
The changes were brought in to raise standards and while I appreciate that many educators in our colleges don’t like the focus on end examinations and cannot see why grading has been changed to numbers, it is now in operation and we need to work with it.
The basic issue is that schools are judged on how many of their pupils get “5s” and 5+ is better for pupils’ prospects, so setting entry requirements at grade 4 (and letting pupils know that nine months before they take their exams) sends the wrong message.
This undermines schools when they are saying and working with children to get a grade 5 or above. This is an area where schools and colleges need to work together and not undercut each other.
Question Two: Valuing governors
Is the government prepared to acknowledge and value the work governors do in supporting adult education?
Answer: It does sometimes feel like that the sector isn’t valued. This year, however, there has been much more interest in adult education. The Financial Times and the Economist have both covered it. The Joseph Rowntree Trust is calling for five million adults to receive support for basic skills and all three political parties talk about lifelong learning in the post-Brexit world.
We are waiting for DfE to announce what the National Retraining Scheme will look like and we still have the commitment to English and maths entitlement for adults.
But this is not enough. We still do not have a national ESOL strategy or a political narrative on adult education, when both Scotland and Wales do.
On whether governors are valued, we know that DfE is doing further work on governance and we are always told that government does value the work they do. But it would be good to see some evidence of that, maybe in speeches or annual letters – something for the minister’s speech in November perhaps?
Question Three: Link Governor
How can I as a link governor spot where teaching quality may be declining before poor results make it apparent?
Answer: You need to follow the relevant policies. Before you make a visit, you should look at recent performance data and the latest self-assessment report and speak to the head of that subject area about any issues you think you may come across. One of the purposes of the visit is to triangulate information given to you and reality.
When you make your visit, speak to the teacher and the students; both are normally forthcoming with information especially when they are not happy. If you feel that the class lacks focus or students are not confident in talking about their goals, discuss with the programme lead whether this is normal. Remember you are not there to inspect but to feel secure that the senior leadership has a handle on any issues you encounter.