One in five colleges have not published board minutes in over a year, an FE Week investigation has found.

The news will come as a shock to FE Commissioner Richard Atkins who recently criticised Hull College for being less than transparent by not making its minutes available to staff and stakeholders for the same period of time.

The leaked report said the practice “needs to change” (see below).

And Lord Agnew, the minister responsible for college oversight, said at an event in May that good governance was “something of a personal crusade”.

Although there is no fixed rule on whether colleges must publish their board minutes online – or how frequently – “accountability” is considered a requirement by the Department for Education.

A spokesperson for the DfE said they “expect colleges – like all education institutions – to be open and transparent about their operations”, including “publishing minutes in a timely manner”.

Guidance from the Association of Colleges (AoC) states: “In the spirit of open governance and accountability, approved minutes should be published on the college website”.

FE Week’s analysis was based on an audit of more than 250 general FE and sixth form college websites.

The analysis also showed that 14 colleges appear to not have any openly accessible corporation or governing minutes on their websites.

Some, including South Devon College and Warrington and Vale Royal College, advertise that they can be obtained on request. Others, like Portmouth College’s website, state that permission needs to be granted to access their minutes. 

Some websites, including those of New College Stamford and Fircroft College of Adult Education, stated minutes were published online, but no links could be found by FE Week, while others appeared to have no specific references at all.

The AoC’s 2015 report on ‘Creating Excellence in College Governance’ confirmed that, under the 2008 “instrument”, governing bodies must meet at least once each term.

In 2019, as part of its ‘Governors’ Council Code of Good Governance for English Colleges’, the association added: “The board should conduct its affairs as openly and transparently as possible.

“…With the continuing trend for greater transparency and ‘student/customer’ protection, we cannot stress enough the importance of being proactive in providing this assurance if we are to avoid future legislative or regulatory creep.”

College corporations can decide whether to include this requirement in their own rules, but some providers are not abiding by these either.

NCG’s instrument of government states it “shall ensure that a copy of the draft or signed minutes of every meeting of the corporation… shall be placed on the institution’s website, and shall, despite any rules the corporation may make regarding the archiving of such material, remain on its website for a minimum period of 12 months”.

However, it is one of 25 colleges that have not updated their board minutes since 2018.

In addition, all of the archived minutes on NCG’s website are currently without working links.

The most recently available board minutes for four colleges were from 2017.

After being asked why this was so in the case of Chichester College Group, a spokesperson told FE Week: “It is our policy to publish the minutes of our governing body meetings on our group website.

“Unfortunately, the minutes have not been appearing on the site. As soon as this was identified, we were able to rectify this error.”

Many of the published sets of minutes across the colleges were also incomplete.

For example, York College, which has published regular governing body minutes since March 2012 up to July 2019 was missing the minutes from its March 2018 meeting until contacted by FE Week.

A spokesperson for York College described it as an omission which has now been corrected.

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  1. john evans

    I do wish you would stop having a go at the Colleges.

    This is yet another example of poor contract management by the ESFA – doesn’t the contract manager ever look at the college web site before they visit and this has been going on for years. I worked at West Notts and wrote to the ESFA about exactly this but nothing happened because the Dame didn’t want anything becoming exposed, nor did FE Week.

    Why not investigate your friends at the ESFA and ask them to explain why so many things don’t get detected and just to illustrate in the space of 5 minutes:
    – providers on the banned register simply buying another roatp provider and putting starts through that – not difficult to find
    – levy employers on the banned list simply finding a provider and continue as if nothing ever happened – and the ESFA know that is happening and turn a blind eye
    – financial health of organisations – do they ever look at accounts. a simple look at the top 10 providers owned by private equity will show they score 0 /300 but are not issued with notices of concern. It is clear the ESFA cannot read a balance sheet or are reading the wrong one !
    – providers who know they are going to get a bad ofsted start planning before it happen to ensure they can continue
    – providers changing their year ends to delay publication of accounts or simply paying the penalty for late filing

    You could go on and on about what is happening out there. The ESFA need to get a grip and stop blaming providers or all shapes and sizes after issues develop.

    But better control and less scandal wouldn’t help the headlines for FE Week and your MD would it !

    Call for an enquiry into the conduct of the ESFA as they are the common demoninator in all of this over the past 5-8 years, not the providers !

    • Stefan Drew

      I don’t think ESFA can be held responsible when colleges fail to post minutes. This is totally within the control of colleges.

      Of course posting minutes within a few days could become a condition of funding …. but that’s another matter.

      As for having a go at colleges. I disagree. No one is having a go at colleges that are ethical, prudent and transparent. But where colleges have decided to ignore legitimate FOI requests, have been financial imprudent, been accused by staff of nepotism etc it is the role of the Fourth Estate to inform the public. And thank goodness they do or justice would not be served.

      Those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear when spending public money.

  2. Stefan Drew

    I surveyed 25 colleges over Christmas and none were contactable for 2 weeks without functioning answerphones or emergency numbers. How can colleges claim to want to be more commercial, open to employers etc when they behave like this.