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.