New “strategic conversations” that require all college leaders to meet with Education and Skills Funding Agency and FE Commissioner officials once a year will begin from next month.

The meetings, which must be attended by the principal and chair, will be held with individual colleges annually to “look holistically at the college’s strategy”.

The ESFA has insisted this is not another form of intervention. It is not clear at this stage if a record of the meeting will be kept and published by the agency.

Announcing plans for the meetings in its weekly update today, the ESFA said they will be a “strategic conversation that rises above the normal day to day dialogue”.

“It will focus on current and future plans that the college has, and provide us with an opportunity to hear directly from colleges about their successful initiatives, as well as discussing risks and challenges, and possible solutions.”

The new conversations follow Dame Mary Ney’s review of the financial oversight of colleges, which recommended a more nurturing and pro-active relationship between government and colleges.

In its response to the Ney review, the ESFA did promise an action to introduce annual “strategic conversations”. This pledge was then reaffirmed in the recent FE white paper.

The meeting will be led by the ESFA, with an FE Commissioner representative, and include the “principal, the college chair, other governors and other college senior leaders as appropriate”.

The first of these conversations will start in the summer term, from late April 2021, the ESFA said, with the first full cycle completed by May 2022.

Meetings will be held either at colleges or virtually, depending upon Covid-19 restrictions.

The ESFA said the content of the agenda will be “jointly shaped with each college, and as the programme rolls out we will be in touch to agree a meeting date with each college and to agree the agenda”.

FE Week has asked the ESFA if the meetings are a funding requirement and what happens if a college refuses to take part.

The new conversations will involve all further education colleges, including specialist designated institutions, land based colleges and sixth form colleges.