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Colleges in spotlight like never before

The AoC annual conference, coming the week before the budget, was never going to offer anything from the government in the way of new policies or addition funding

So we will have to wait until next Wednesday to find out what the chancellor says and whether David Hughes was right to be “hopeful” (page 3).

But what really struck me over the two days of the conference (listening to speeches, attending workshops and talking to delegates) was just how many major government reforms rely on colleges to step up and deliver in ways.

This really came across in a well pitched speech from the apprenticeships and skills minister Anne Milton (page 4).

There is clearly recognition within the government that if its radical reform of post-16 vocational education (T-levels) has any chance of succeeding, then a positive partnership with colleges is desperately needed.

Colleges were also challenged (for the second year) by the ESFA’s director of funding to win more apprenticeship work from the large levy-funded employers (page 15).

Within a few years, the T-levels and the apprenticeship levy will make for £1.5 billion of additional funding per year, which is a huge opportunity for colleges.

This goes some way to explain Mr Hughes’ “reasons to be upbeat”.

Yet funding is tight right now, so at the conference there was a palpable tension between those principals being optimistic and the others complaining about funding cuts.

The chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, promised Ofsted would keep a close eye on the new apprenticeship providers (page 6).

This is to be welcomed, but has to be matched by the ESFA keeping a firm grip on the appropriate use of the money.

And our interview with the leader of the opposition (page 10) revealed that colleges may be in for a bit of a shock should Labour reach power (and I’m not talking about piles of additional cash).

Jeremy Corbyn made it clear that Labour is looking to weaken the independence of colleges, although time will tell if the plan is really to turn the clock back to pre-1993 when colleges were under local authority control.

We’ve also included on page 12 all the AoC award winners announced at the end of the conference dinner (congratulations to them all) along with lots of views and reaction throughout the two days from delegates.

We could not attend all the many and varied workshops, but across pages 13, 14 and 15 you will find some of our chosen highlights.

Many thanks to AoC for having us again as their premier media partner and for running another excellent conference.

And thank you to NOCN for sponsoring this supplement, which I hope you enjoy.

That just leaves me to finish by saying everyone at FE Week will have their fingers crossed for good budget news, which (either way) we will of course report at length in our next edition.

Nick Linford, editor

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