The AELP’s new code of governance is a chance for training providers big and small to think about how they comply with best practice, observes Nichola Hay

Governance is a hot topic right now. Only a week after I spoke on the subject at the Association of Employment and Learning Providers’ national conference, Ofsted’s chief inspector dedicated a whole speech to its application in multi-academy trusts. Obviously Amanda Spielman hadn’t been taking her lead from the conference, but it has been rewarding to be part of an important initiative as AELP drives forward best practice in our part of the sector.

With support from the Further Education Trust for Leadership and the expert advice of sector luminaries Sue Pember and Karen Adriaanse, the AELP initiative takes the form of a new code of good governance for independent training providers (ITPs), which include limited companies, charities and not-for-profit organisations of all sizes. AELP has strongly recommended that the code be adopted by all its ITP members.

An ITP’s board should publish an annual account of its engagement with the main communities that it serves

Good governance is not new to ITPs. My organisation is part of the Seetec Group and our governance approach follows the principles of the Corporate Governance Code. As a public service provider responsible for public funds, we are also guided by the Nolan standards in public life, and many other AELP members do the same. But the new code developed by AELP is a major step forward because it helps to formalise governance within the sector, and provides a clear framework for AELP members to map their governance against.

The code can be applied to organisations of all sizes, and ideally all ITPs should review their governance structure, document what it looks like and how it complies with the best practice. However, it is expected there will be differences in the way organisations implement the code, given their structures and sizes.

Larger ITPs will simply need to review their current structure and map over to the code, bridging whatever gaps they identify.

Small and medium-sized organisations will need to think about what governance means to them, and consider how the senior management team will be challenged and questioned on decision-making. Their governance structure will need to be formalised.

My recommendation would be that if you are a small provider and feel that an aspect of the governance code doesn’t apply, then you should be transparent about the reasons for not adopting it, and what you have in its place to ensure the principles are being followed.

Ofsted’s scrutiny of the governance of all types of providers should be a reason in itself for adopting the code. But as a director, I am challenged and questioned daily on decisions made by stakeholders, including our employer clients. Following the code will bring additional comfort and security for me as well as being of benefit to stakeholders. I would recommend that those providers who have a board and haven’t got a non-executive director should consider appointing at least one to offer external insight and hold the management team to account.

Other aspects I believe will be of particular value are the code’s recommendations on transparency and openness. At least once a year, an ITP’s board should publish on the organisation’s website an account of its engagement with the main communities that it serves, the progress made towards meeting their needs for education and training, and how it aims to meet future needs. Again, the focus on how we deliver social value is vital when we are reporting on the use of public money, and this is why we should also encourage employers to put governance structures in place in respect of their levy funds. Via its annual report or self-assessment report, the ITP should also communicate that it has adopted the code and demonstrate how it complies with the principles.

The AELP code was published at the AELP conference as a “final draft” for consultation and it will be finalised shortly. By embracing it, a provider is sending out a signal in a very competitive marketplace that it has good values and ethics.