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.

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  1. I think this has the potential to be a great addition to the agency’s remit.
    Checking in with leadership teams to both support and challenge them as well as being a sounding and accountability board can only provide positive outcomes for all involved.
    It’s easy to become unwittingly singular in your approach when leading an organisation and even with good internal rigour and challenge, it’s still internal.
    Done well this would provide benefit and improvements in all organisations within our sector , but if it becomes a contractual box ticking exercise we risk the polar opposite.
    As I’m currently collecting rotting tomatoes I don’t mind saying that I’d welcome this as an ITP!

    • Phil Hatton

      The difficulty here is the ESFA having the right staffing to carry out this annual task otherwise they will not ask the right kind of questions and have the insight to understand the answers. Years ago some of the senior staff in regional Government Offices and some of the local LSCs would have been able to do it well. I can see recruitment of daily rate specialists being the answer and perhaps small groupings of principals whose areas cross over each other. ITPs certainly should not be left out of the picture if the ESFA want to maximise learning opportunities and cooperation.