Ten ways for colleges to forge a successful relationship with sub-contractors

The relationship between lead and sub-contractor may be one defined by tension for some, and tranquility for others. Matthew Lord outlines how to help make these relationships fall into the latter camp.

With the final push to sign off contracts and the last-minute dash for recruitment dominating our lives, I’ve been thinking about exactly what we, as a ‘sub-contractor’ are looking for from our college partners (although ‘sub-contractor’ is surely a misnomer if ever there was one – to us it’s a partnership, with all the sense of alliance and co-operation that implies).

We simply haven’t got the time to be passed around the college talking to all and sundry (delightful though your colleagues are)


We’re all united by a single aim — to deliver great learning to our students — but too often the sub-contractor-college relationship founders because one ‘side’ or another doesn’t understand what the other needs. So let’s banish misunderstanding, frustration and soaring blood pressure and make the relationship work.

The first thing to consider are time frames and contracts. Timing is everything. Is your college able to commit to our time frames, process the necessary due diligence and get the course under contract in time for us to be able to recruit learners at the right time of year? If you can do this, it tells us you’re a super-efficient college — just what we like.

Secondly, count date meeting. Meet with us one week before the count date and please make sure you withdraw learners that need to be withdrawn.

Third is registers. Decide how these are submitted and monitored. And please make sure someone from the college does actually look at them and that they are monitored regularly.

Bursary application forms comes fourth in this list. Provide us with a checklist of the exact evidence required. And once you receive the forms, please process them quickly. Delays at this late stage cause real problems for us and, more importantly, our students. Many of ours are entirely dependent on financial help to pursue their studies.

Fifth is being ‘Ofsted-ready’. Check that your sub-contractor is Ofsted-ready — you don’t want your next inspection to be adversely affected by any shortcomings beyond your control. It will boost your confidence — and that of your sub-contractor — to know that everything is hunky-dory.

And sixth is English and maths. Does the sub-contractor have the necessary support to ensure success in these crucial areas? Do staff have the necessary training and resource support? This should include initial testing, teaching delivery and exam preparation. Good results are in everyone’s best interests.

It hardly needs saying, but keep in touch. This is number seven. Do meet regularly with your sub-contractor and draw up a set agenda around numbers, quality and support.

Number eight is fewer points of contact. With the best will in the world, we simply haven’t got the time to be passed around the college talking to all and sundry (delightful though your colleagues are). Less is definitely more, so let’s agree a few key points of contact at the start of the relationship. These are sub-contracting/business manager (responsible for internal liaison with safeguarding, HR, finance and contracts); registration (enrolments, withdrawals, bursary forms, exam registration); quality assurance; and heads of department.

And if your staff change, remember to
tell us.

Back to the list of ten and at nine is learner support. Make sure that your contractor has a robust system in place for learners who need support. In the case of Let Me Play, the vast majority of our students have been turned off learning by bad experiences at school and have very low self-confidence, so this is second nature to us. Before they can even begin to learn, our young people need to acquire the habit of regular attendance at our learning centres and find some self belief. Many have difficult home lives, and some are already living alone at the age of 16 or even homeless. These are all potential barriers to learning which have to be overcome before they’re ready to move on to college at the end of our courses.

And ten is free school meals. Young people need feeding — and nutritious meals aid focus and concentration. If your sub-contractor delivers full-time study programmes to 16 to 18-year-olds off-site, do you have a system for paying for free school meals to eligible learners?


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  1. Possibly one more – How does the college communicate with subcontractors, f2f meetings or by conference calls with key points of contact, a day or 20 minutes. Does the college MIS ‘talk’ to the subcontractors MIS or is data re-entered onto college system and if so what is the delay and risk of error. Can subcontractors learner management be monitored by the college in real time, if not, why not? and whilst all ten points are crucial for a successful partnership it could be more efficiently managed if everyday technology was part of it, in my experience it is not. This all assumes of course that the subcontractors systems are not already better than the college. What then?