A month-long FE Week investigation into multi-million pound funding of Gazelle by UK colleges has resulted in criticism that public money was being used on “expensive initiatives which have little educational impact”.

The group’s five founding colleges have dished out more than £530,000 each to Gazelle, according to figures obtained from Freedom of Information Act.

More than 20 current and former member colleges were asked what they had spent on the organisation, which was launched in January 2012 with standard annual membership priced at £35,000.

Gazelle, which raked in around £3.5m from colleges, claims to, “develop innovative new learning models and new partnerships with business to deliver an improved outcome for students, their communities and the economy”.

Its chief executive, Fintan Donohue, said the “enrichment of student experiences and outcomes” was its “overriding goal”.

But no independent research has been carried out into whether learners benefit, while of the 11 Gazelle colleges inspected since 2013, six were rated as good, four were told they required improvement while one was branded inadequate. Four of these were an improvement, one was a decrease and the rest were no change.

The findings of the FE Week investigation have prompted University and College Union general secretary Sally Hunt to question the sums of cash being handed over by colleges.

“At a time of financial pressures on colleges across the UK, students and staff alike will be dismayed at how much is being paid by some institutions for Gazelle membership which seems to have little impact when it comes to improving learner experience,” she said.

“The amount that some colleges are paying Gazelle seems incredible given the apparent lack of return on investment for the institutions involved. We would seriously question whether this is resulting in a better education for learners.

“Colleges should focus more on ensuring better learning environments for students and working environments for staff, and less on expensive initiatives which have little educational impact.”

The highest paying Gazelle college was grade three-rated Gateshead, one of the founders, and it gave £642,000.

The payments included including £120,000 for “purchase of educational concept” and more than £22,000 for staff development and student activities, but deputy principal John Holt defended the contract.

He said: “As a college we place considerable value on key aspects of the Gazelle membership and activity.”

He said the benefits included the formation of pro-active development groups across key areas of curriculum innovation, engagement of students in national competitions, exposure to business and entrepreneurial expertise and innovation in teaching and learning.

The remaining founder colleges were Warwickshire, City College Norwich, New College Nottingham and North Hertfordshire, whose former chief executive, Mr Donohue, stepped down last year to focus on his role as Gazelle chief executive.

He said: “If our mission was simply to immediately improve Ofsted grades, we would invest our resources quite differently. Nevertheless, in the long term our expectation is that the creation of entrepreneurial learning and leadership will deliver enhanced Ofsted ratings — and among our 23 colleges, 18 are already rated as good or outstanding for leadership and management.

“Gazelle colleges recognise that the current funding challenge faced by the sector requires not just frugality in spending, but the investment of resources into ventures and partnerships that can deliver new revenue streams. That, alongside the enrichment of student experiences and outcomes, will remain our overriding goal, one that is fully supported by a fast-growing membership group.”


Gazelle leap of faith

It would be hard to disagree with the view of the UCU that Gazelle is an expensive initiative with member colleges paying at least £35k a-year in fees.

And that’s just the basic amount. One founder member of the group, for example, has splashed out more than £650k since 2012.

The group may be worth these eyebrow-raising figures, but where is the evidence?

How many more membership fees and other costs will be handed over without good reason to expect some kind of quality return?

Given this is public money that principals are paying out here, it’s only right that independent research be carried out into what effect, if any, Gazelle has on its member colleges.

The sums being given to this organisation make it quite some leap of financial faith by colleges.

But the sector has a self-improvement body in the Education and Training Foundation — perhaps it’s the one to look at whether £3.5m has been well spent.

After all, being business-minded, as Gazelle claims to promote, wouldn’t you want to know what bang you’re getting for your buck?

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  1. Surely the impact of this £3.5M investment from the Gazelle group will be felt in the improved Ofsted grades by the college members?

    Governance plays a vital part in challenging and supporting those colleges that are using innovation to leverage these improvements. Their role and accountability in justifying this investment needs to be questioned if it is not having a direct impact on learners.

    • Uncle Jack

      This smacks of a Witch Hunt from people with an agenda.
      This Company has only been running for approximately 2 years now and already we are bashing them. Results in the education field do not happen overnight. Let’s give them a chance.
      We know the old Educational Establishment have been against this from the start because it does not fit into their box. What a bunch of old fuddy dud dies.
      Let’s try something new. Give it a chance. Get out of the past and look to the future..
      This old traditional mindset is one of the reasons I left the UK and moved to the U.S.!

      • Yann Tierst

        2 years in business is actually a very long time. The fact that most startups fail within 6 months really highlights how long the unfortunate test subject (the students) of gazelle have had to endure its slow and painful demise.

        If gazelle had approached the facilitation of their gazelle agenda with a startup mentality from the outset: be lean, be agile move fast and adapt to change, then they may well have been in a much better position than they currently are.

  2. Paul Smithers

    I think that the Gazells organisation is a prelude to the privatisation of its constituent colleges.

    It does not have to make a profit, it just has to be well placed to step in and take over as each of its constiuent members suffer from some form of finacial crisis, one that will miraculously dissapper once the college has been handed over for a nominal sum (say £1)to an ‘entreprenurial education organisation’ with ‘years of experience'(read CLT’s)of ‘turning round’ failing colleges into outstanding educational organisations.

    Why do I think this? well, £120,000 for ‘purchase of educational concept’ for a start, (when was the last time a teacher got paid for developing a new program of learning?), entrepreurialism a concept? education a concept?, have these people read the EU white paper on Entrepreurialism and Education?

    I am surprised that the article makes no mention of share dealings within Gazelles, how can shares be traded in an organisation that owns nothing, and is merely repackaging old ideas, ideas that fail (7:1)due to the lack of institutional support from the very people who claim to expertise in these matters.

    I find it odd that hardworking college executives who have climbed the greasy pole of what are essentially civil sevice institutions suddenly become converts to the joys of enreprenurialism, which usually does not involve spending their own money nor taking the risk associated with establishing their own companies.

    I ask you, who will take the finacial hit if Gazelles fails? not it’s principles that’s for certain,and who stands to gain (financially)should Gazells succeed?

    Who does actually own those shares?

    I belive in essence this boils down to the latest version of carpet baggers making profits out of demutualisation, alot of good it did Halifax Building Society.

    Then we have the Russion experience of apparatchniks becomming oligarchs, not very enlightening (although enriching for some).

    Ask yourself, who owns these colleges?

    To whom are their principals responsible?

    Then, remember South Staffordshire Hospital and the Co-op Bank.

  3. Mortimer Lake

    There was a rumour circulating a couple of years ago while another principal in a town nearby was wrecking their college that a few ‘execs’ were sharing ideas on the creation of ‘helicopter’ companies … this is purely conjecture but an interesting idea as this tale seems to reflect the idea that one can create a nominal entity and then attract ‘taxpayer’ income into a private organisation.

  4. Richard Le Corney

    According to information from companycheck.co.uk based on documents filed at Companies House:
    Each of the 5 founder colleges has a shareholding of £600,000.
    The net worth of Gazelle Global at 31 July 2013 was MINUS £19,347.
    There are two “baby Gazelles” with the same Registered Address: The Gazelle Foundation and Gazelle Transform Ltd. Neither has filed accounts, and none are due until 2015.
    I wonder where the £3m equity has gone, together with all the membership fees and sales revenues reported in your article!

    • Anonymous

      I also work at one of the Colleges. I can concur with Jane Doe’s views. Gazelle is about promoting the careers of senior managers. This is public money and it is being wasted on vanity projects. In my college we cannot afford paper for classes while money was spent on a launch meeting to which hardly anyone turned up.

      • john doe 2

        Quote “Promoting the careers of senior managers”, completely and utterly spot on….
        More interested in getting in the paper, becoming powerful, wealthy, famous etc, MUCH less interested in the quality of education delivered.

        I also work in one of these colleges where senior management get big bonuses and teachers and support staff haven’t had a pay rise (even in line with inflation) for four years and don’t even have the basics we need to do our jobs properly.

        Also this idea that there is some complex, expensive, magical formula to improve quality of education. Its bull! It’s actually quite simple; 1 – motivate and train staff, 2 – provide all the resources they require to do their jobs properly, 3 – keep course content up to date and in-line with industry.
        Big bonuses for top management who put loads of public money into complex initiatives that almost always fail to deliver sometimes anything at all when they can’t even manage steps 1, 2 and 3!!! Am i right, am I right?

      • Jonathan Doe

        I think this goes for the entrepreneurial curriculum as a whole – too many people talking the talk but not walking the walk. It’s so disappointing, not only for us who work in the ed sector and bear witness to this tripe – but also our students who feel let down when the bells and whistles promised don;t materialise.

  5. john murray

    In addition to the incredible waste of public money on an organisation that appears to produce nothing (except, I would suggest, the self-serving needs of a few) I think the hidden costs of Gazelle – both financially and educationally needs further consideration.

    As a tutor at one of the so called ‘Gazelle Colleges’ I would question the impact that the Gazelle philosophy has or is attempting to have on the quality of education and training. I would suggest that, far from providing ‘the enrichment of students experiences and outcomes’ that Gazelle purports to do (why do we need Gazelle to do this for FE anyway) the Gazelle philosophy is actually creating an educational experience of the lowest common denominator in which students, led to believe that these skills are essential to an ‘ever changing world of work’, are actually developing skills that are superficial and pointless at the expense of genuine learning. As staff we are under constant pressure to participate in pointless half-baked initiatives, projects and ‘Gazelle competitions’ often with little educational worth or substance and which are almost always to the detriment of the students studies.

    As a tutor I would also question the amount of time that staff have been expected to commit to so called Gazelle training especially when we have such high teaching commitments. There have been numerous occasions when myself and my colleagues have been expected to drop our teaching to participate in some training (usually over several days) that is supposed to ‘help us think like a creative entrepreneur’. not only do these training sessions cost a considerable amount of money to the individual colleges when money is scarce, but the training itself if often pointless and lacks any concrete application to our teaching whatsoever.

    I would suggest that the missing 3.5 million is just one small part of the real cost of Gazelle colleges.

  6. Julie

    So we have an organisation that costs the sector 3.5 million and offers nothing in return and for which the CEO has just received an OBE probably in addition to an already inflated salary.

    It all sounds a bit like ‘jobs for the boys’ to me. As usual I would suspect that its at the expense of the hard work of the staff in these colleges!

    • m.rainford

      I think you may mean jobs for the girls!! How can this organisation, an offshoot of The American college Babson college, a religiously founded college be allowed to con the taxpayers of this country.? Check out leadership at this college for leadership training!!!!!!!!!!!! more money wasted by fatcats.

  7. If Gazelle was effective then surely at least vocational value added would be high. In fact it’s very poor with the vast majority in the bottom or next to bottom quintile on the data dashboard.

  8. SUSAN

    Firstly I concur that this organisation is self-serving. Having been to a number of Gazelle events I have never met more opportunistic yet ill informed individuals in my 30 years in Further Education.

    Secondly when you look on the websites of some of the Gazelle Colleges you find claims like:

    ‘Being part of Gazelle we take our students careers seriously’
    ‘We are working together to develop new applied learning that blurs the boundaries education and work’
    ‘We are transforming education and developing new commercial learning models’ (what these are they don’t say)”
    There is even one college that claims to be transforming learning by ‘taking education out of the classroom!

    How transformational! I wonder – have these people ever worked in Further Education as teachers? Do they seriously think that we haven’t always sought to ensure that our students get the very best opportunities in developing their careers? Do they not think that we already work with industry? Do they still think that we only teach in classrooms?

    And best of……this has cost colleges 3.5 million! if this isn’t self-serving then I don’t know what is.

  9. Reading this article, I would like to add my comment as a student from one of the Gazelle colleges.

    First of all, I would like to comment about your research into this article. You have ripped into some of the colleges that are maybe not doing so well with this scheme, but has anybody done the research to its full extent? Have you guys actually even tried to pick out any positives from this scheme? Have you actually seen any impact it has caused to some of the students? You decided to pick out on the colleges that may not have been doing so well, but whoever wrote this article, did they take the colleges that actually honestly do well with the Gazelle colleges any consideration?

    I arrived at my college with no motivation. I really had no hope, I was turned around within the two years of my stay at this college. My college promoted entrepreneurial spirit, encouraged its students take part in things that helped students to build skills that cannot be promoted in classrooms.

    For instance, within the two years, I have managed to build up my own business with my fellow students, attend conferences, events & meetings giving out my student voice, win many competitions within and out of my college, as well as getting straight Distinctions in my course. I was just an average student before this, I never shined, I never failed, but nothing could really describe me more than average. But this college, really made me see what I am capable of. Not within me either, my classmates, I noticed they have really grown within themselves too. Our business, really set off, we are studying and running our business, it was fantastic and I am absolutely gutted to leave the college this year, if I could, I will honestly stay here to do more.

    It’s not just me either. All around, I see students shine. Opportunities are given here, and it is up to the students whether they take up on it or not. Sometimes all it takes is that right person to give that direction and my college has this. Old school teachers really need to step away from confined teaching in classrooms. Not being funny, I thought being academically educated was the right way to be, but it got so boring and in reality I never see what any classroom learning had to say for itself. What I learnt was it’s the way you are, the way you bring yourself that’s more important. I am not denying that qualifications and end of year results are not important, of course they are, but a lot of people lack in inter-personal skills, that schools and colleges fail to teach! I learnt it all here, it was an eye opener, but I see the world how it is now.

    We have students going off to run their own businesses or leaving to do bigger and better things. I don’t know statistics, (I am just a student) but from my previous schooling and college experiences, I can feel the spirit and the achievements that students get here, and it certainly is far more notable and appreciated than anywhere else I have seen.

    Does my college develop innovative learning and have partnerships with business to deliver an improved outcome for students, their communities and the economy?? Yes I believe it does.

    Does it provide enrichment of student experiences and outcomes?? Of course, I was given the once in a lifetime opportunity to go Buckingham palace!!

    “Colleges should focus more on ensuring better learning environments for students and working environments for staff, and less on expensive initiatives which have little educational impact.” – My college had a lovely renovation, upon doing so, more opportunities arose. The business that I and my classmates are running was only possible with the extra stuff that was built. We was given our own (small yet perfect) premise as well as an entrepreneurial zone where it had members helping us out with any issues we had. We had won an international competition through this too!

    Let me tell you, I am writing this from the bottom of my heart, if I feel this way, I believe there are others students that feel like this too. It’s a new idea of learning, but it worked for me. It took me away from the boredom of sitting in a classroom, I was involved in so many projects. I went from one shy girl to a confident woman – all because of this college.

    The point is, because my college was part of the Gazelle groups, I feel this way. I was given the opportunities and I took them one by one. It’s heart breaking to hear such negativity, but with age things change. Education like this is way better, I gained from it and learned from, and soon I will be off to bigger and better things. There is no stopping me now, thanks to my college.

    • @G – you say “I went from one shy girl to a confident woman – all because of this college.

      The point is, because my college was part of the Gazelle groups, I feel this way.”

      Do you have experience of any other college that was NOT part of a Gazelle group? I ask that because I have that experience and can say the same as you: “I went from one shy girl to a confident woman – all because of this college” but MY college was NOT a Gazelle college.

      Could it be that colleges work and students succeed and thrive because of the efforts of teachers and not the executive membership of this vague group? Do all colleges NOT part of the Gazelle group fail in comparison? And do the Gazelle groups colleges show a marked improvement on the results of other colleges not part of the group? They don’t do they? I hesitate to suggest that you didn’t learn analytical skills at your college? I’m glad you had a positive experience there.

    • Richard Le Corney

      If “G” is so proud of her achievements, why doesn’t she give her name? If her college is so wonderful, why doesn’t she say which one it is? If she’s won so many competitions, why doesn’t she quote some examples? If her business is so successful, why doesn’t she use this opportunity to promote it by name like a true entrepreneur?

    • Jane Doe

      In my college only a few learners have opportunities like yours and, in turn, these learners are used to promote Gazelle. Clearly it is not as standard across all the Gazelle colleges and across all levels of learning within these colleges.

    • Genever

      You fail to say what exactly it is that you and your fellows are promoting as a business. If it is truly successful then why do you need to cling on to the support of the college and not want to leave? A true entrepreneur would be flying solo by now. It is obvious too, from the way you write, that playing at being “in business” seems to have been to the detriment of learning basic written English, at a time when Government initiatives are all around English and Maths.

      However anyone defends the Gazelle approach (and yes, I work in a Gazelle college) it is showing itself increasingly to be a money-making scheme which some senior staff are using for the purposes of self-aggrandisement.

      The opportunities you describe as having inspired you are not “Gazelle”, they have always existed in good vocational colleges who have staff dedicated to the student outcomes and experience. On one of my courses alone, 80% of the students have found employment in the sector they have been studying (Construction Professional) through activities organised by their tutors, BEFORE they have completed their course. This is not Gazelle, it is dedication and understanding of their individual needs; good FE teachers have always worked this way.

      As for competitions, we have several students competing in the finals of WorldSkills, and more who frequently win at Skillbuild. You do not say what competitions Gazelle gives you the opportunity to take part in, but there are none more prestigious than WorldSkills. What competitions did you enter, and how did you fare?

  10. As a matter of interest Liverpool has posters everywhere of student success stories with the word Gazelle on them. Only problem is all this success predates membership of Gazelle.

  11. Whilst not disagreeing with many of the comments above I do think the Gazelle concept is a very useful platform on which to bring about transformative change in colleges. For those colleges involved in the project I believe it has enabled them to speed up sorely needed change in both teaching and the management of learning.

    However, if those clever boys at the Treasury get to hear that we can blow money on such projects at a time of severe cutbacks they may well think that we are still being over-funded!!

  12. GP Ripley

    Whilst I share the view that individual colleges need to evaluate the costs and benefits, I am disappointed with the editorial style of FE week. Loaded phrases like “dished out” and “raked in” are more indicative of tabloid journalism. The article seems to suggest both that an evaluation is needed at the same time as casting doubt on the value. They should await results, in any event the evaluation is a matter for each college, certainly not the paper nor ETF/AOC.

    Why did FE week use FOI requests to colleges, too aggressive wouldn’t a polite request have been enough? I am revising my opinion of this paper.


  13. Daisy Renton

    It seems from the above that use of public funds is not being monitored closely enough. The new Commissioner for F E must surely be aware of this by now. As courses are cut and front-line staff made redundant with no really measurable impact of Gazelle initiatives beyond spurious ‘concepts’ is it not about time someone began to focus on this much neglected education sector?

  14. John Reese


    Principals of the Gazelle club have wasted time and public resources. The evidence is very clear that the student benefit is at best negligible. International travel to Boston, USA for leadership training (as if we have no leadership training organisations here in the UK) only demonstrates the naivety and myopic views of the Gazelle principles. The question that should be asked is how much do Governors of these institutions know about how their finances is being spent.

    David Collins, the FE Commissioner, has highlighted in his letter of 13 June to Principals and Governors some of the so called “vanity projects” that have been pursued at the expense of the colleges’ core business.
    It is rather alarming that such an expenditure is being undertaken by a club of ill-informed principals (or Chief Executives as they call themselves). One would question what sort of external audit has been undertaken in any of these colleges? Apparently, one of the Gazelle’s enterprise initiatives is about making underpants! Well, I shall Refrain making any remarks about such a ludicrous initiative!

    FE Week has done its job properly and diligently in serving the public interest. This sort of waste needs to be brought out and made transparent.

    It is rather surprising that the Skills Minister hasn’t requested an investigation into this or acted yet?

    The money should be handed back to the individual colleges and be used for the much needed student resources, hiring expert staff and undertaking initiatives that further the quality of the student learning experience.

  15. Further Education

    I was subject last year to a presentation by new senior managers in a large FE college. They were new to us. They had joined Gazelle. They were upwardly thrusting in terms of business engagement.

    They started with a MASSIVE image of a cheetah savaging a deer. You need to be fleet of foot, the new SMT told us – that is what this image suggests. This was followed by the new Principal / CEO telling us all that we should regard her appointment as “Year Zero.”

    “Christ,” said my colleague (who teaches History & Politics) and was sitting next to me. “This is the imagery of the Third Reich & the metaphors of Pol Pot.”

    I thought he was being overly political. I was wrong.

  16. Sarah Smith

    It’s been clear to many in the sector that the only thing that Gazelle has achieved is to create the illusion of purpose and progress. Gazelle has achieved very little that the colleges could not, or were not achieving on an individual basis other than to deflect attention from poor outcomes.

    Being an employee of one of the colleges in question I would consider also the indirect cost of Gazelle. How much each college has spent on sending their employees to other colleges. Seeing long meetings with 10 or 20 or 30 Gazelle college staff taken away from their day jobs has not been uncommon over the years. In which case I would suggest that the real cost of Gazelle is much much higher.

    I think I’m right in saying that all of the original founding colleges have now lost their Principals or CEOs? I wonder why that is?

    Very few students have really gained anything from Gazelle. It seems a big waste of money, a reason for colleges to take their eyes off the ball at the cost of their students and staff. It should cease operation now.

  17. There needs to be a deeper investigation into how public servants can use public money to set up companies which are then remote from any accountability.

  18. Barry

    After reading some of the comments and the excellent article I felt compelled to write. It is indeed a disgrace in the way these colleges have been allowed to spend public funds in this way. Much of what Mr Donohue talks about is bread and butter in most colleges…those good colleges that have a clear vision of what they are trying to achieve….They do that anyway. The idea that a Babson College model of delivering learning is something that the FE Sector should embrace is a pipe dream. Babson after all charge $50,000 dollars for an MBA programme. The idea that their learning models will fit our own here is just bonkers. The idea that colleges have used this as a way of transforming their T and L in their colleges is also bonkers. There is no evidence to prove this. Sadly, these few Principals perhaps didn’t know how they could transform teaching and learning in their institutions; or perhaps they ran out of ideas; or perhaps they knew they were coming to the end of the road and Gazelle allowed them to extend their tenure to top up their ridiculous pension funds. For many they are so far removed from the classroom it is a scary thought that a Principal would make a decision about how T and L should be reformed. As Sarah mentions above the true cost of Gazelle may never be known. The trips to Boston first class, with random people going; people who had little contact with students and even less input on T and L. It has been a free for all. Students and staff have little understanding of what Gazelle is and who it actually benefits. The cost of the branding and events that benefit the few…..not the majority of students. It’s such a shame these colleges have lost their way. If they had leaders who truly believed in impacting on students they would spend their time and efforts getting it right in their colleges. Instead they prefer to be out and about enjoying expensive lunches and staying in top hotels at the expense of Gazelle.

    Staff in these colleges have little notion of what Gazelle is…..after all this time, and money spent on trying to convert staff. There is an evangelical element to this….follow me I am a Principal…..don’t ask questions …..just follow. Some have sadly fallen for it. There is a glam and a glitz attached to being an entrepreneur. But these entrepreneurs aren’t stupid. They saw Gazelle and they saw pound signs. Here is the business model: I will sell you stuff …say pants…you promote my pants in your college to young people …..you then buy my pants from me and run a competition ….and we will send the winners to India. I wonder how many unsold pants are still sitting in boxes in colleges. These entrepreneurs have used the colleges to promote their own businesses, get paid for doing talks etc etc.

    Sadly the leaders have led these colleges down the garden path and they should be held accountable for doing so. Until Gazelle is properly audited, until colleges and Governing bodies know the truth of the spend how will we know the impact? And does it actually mean these colleges have taken their eye off the ball with dire consequences for example the LESOCO Ofsted. Whilst colleges move into more uncertainty with hundreds of jobs being lost due to external funding factors I can’t help think that some of those jobs just might have been saved if this type of waste hadn’t gone on…..and we may never know.

    So what about ‘students’ like G above. Students have very little knowledge of what Gazelle is and what it does. Students are confused by the messaging and branding. They don’t understand the difference ……is it a college? Is it an animal? Did anyone ask students before all this money was spent ? Somehow I doubt it. Do students know the difference between the associated jargon…..used by many in Gazelle incorrectly…. entrepreneur, enterprise, entrepreneurial, transformational learning…….

    Having spent 30 odd years in Education i have never seen such wilfull waste of public funds on such waffle, sound bites, and egos that believe their own bull.

    I don’t think the question is what will Mr Hancock do…..but what ‘can’ he do…….after all he has personally sanctioned Gazelle for their excellent work….

  19. From the start of Gazelle it was clear it would deliver little that had not already been thought of before and colleges could do themselves. Expensive PR contracts, Gazelle principals hobnobbing with politians and famous entrepreneurs- all smoke and mirrros linked with the emperors new clothes. I think there has been huge naieveity around this. It may have heightened the profile of people involved- but unsure of any other impact.

  20. Sadly Anonymous

    I read the article in FE Week on Friday 20 June with some relief that at last there appears to be an objective eye being cast over the governance of Gazelle Colleges and that it is being highlighted in the public domain.

    The membership fee of the 5 founder colleges of over half a million each does not even begin to measure the real cost to Gazelle colleges because the vast majority of the costs are not on spreadsheets and not audit-able. They are costs that are immeasurable and most fly under the radar; they are the hidden costs.

    Whilst it is impossible to provide an exact figure of these, it might be possible to give a flavour of this at North Hertfordshire College and that is the purpose of this response.

    Some of the cost reside in the vast numbers of meetings aimed to train all staff in the ‘Gazelle Way’ of thinking. There are numerous training sessions to ensure staff are operating with a Gazelle set of behaviours. There is re-organisation of curriculum which most staff appear to feel is detracting from quality delivery and does not enhance student experience but is dressed up as ‘entrepreneurial’ and part of the Gazelle brand and will now indeed mean that subject specialists are delivering just 40% of the curriculum from September 2014; the rest will be delivered through a variety of means including competitions, being run by Gazelle, in other words continuing to feed ‘The Beast’.

    The competitions appear, in the main, to be thin, transient and mostly vacuous and do not provide a solid, reliable educational context for students to develop high quality skills and knowledge for which they should be rigorously assessed. Certainly it is impossible to map a set of outcomes for a unit within a curriculum, across to the competitions in a coherent way or indeed that would be creditable in terms of any awarding body.

    An example is Pantrepreneur which whilst entrenched in wholesome values in terms of ethical business, has not been converted into a vehicle to deliver curriculum innovatively or creatively; to the contrary, it appears to have reduced the students to little more than ‘pant pushers’.

    The Learning Companies, which have evolved as one of the main ‘planks’ and ‘trademarks’ of the Gazelle brand, have included a franchised gym, Fit4less and a car wash, based in Stevenage. They have few students and as a result, offer minimal student experience and limited opportunities as a vehicle to deliver qualifications and yet consume a great deal of staff and managements’ time. The fit4less franchise is owned by a close personal friend of the former Principal.

    In addition to this, the companies are also often staffed by individuals with little or no teaching background who in turn need support. The learning companies don’t appear to be making a profit; to the contrary, the suggestion is they make a loss in addition to the costs in terms of staff time.

    I would suggest that in the main, the net experience so far of both competitions and the learning companies is that the teaching staff have had to piece together the aftermath that has been left when the ‘fun’ has ended, to get the students through a meaningful qualification.

    Whilst there are many ‘hidden costs’, the Gazelle Stem Centre at NHC is quite visible; the flagship of Gazelle, parading cutting edge technology – except the space has remained ‘almost’ continuously empty since its development in Stevenage two years ago; its cost? Around half a million pounds.

    The Gazelle Stem Centre is rarely used and depreciates each year it stands empty. NHC continue to pay for intellectual copyright of the software related to it which is also hardly used, if at all. It would be interesting to investigate the connection between the source of the Stem Centre and its software, South West College, Ireland and the former Principal.

    As a college, NHC, like most colleges faces severe financial constraints; despite this, huge sums are spent on Gazelle residentials for large numbers of senior staff with companies like Ideo, Ice-house and sending staff to Babson in Boston USA. The cost of this training is huge and yet is neither cascaded or utilised. Again, there is no visible return for staff or students and in fact uses valuable time, an expensive resource, and one could argue has led to confusion and a lack of clear focus. It increasingly feels as though the ‘vision’ has become the only measure of success with no real appraisal of the practicalities of delivery having been properly addressed or indeed the actual usefulness of even the vision.

    Staff operate in a climate that is closer in ethos to a religious sect than a democratic, progressive college, which segues neatly into the role of the governors. Are they questioning closely enough what is happening and are they asking the right questions to the right people?

    Freddie Whittaker suggests towards the end of the article that the sector’s self-improvement body, the Education and Training Foundation — should consider whether £3.5m has been well spent – in other words, ask some questions. The EFT has actually awarded the Gazelle Foundation with at least £40,000, information openly available on the ETF web-site.

    As the article also points out, Fintan Donohue has said the, “enrichment of student experiences and outcomes” was its “overriding goal”. I would suggest the ‘overriding’ goal lays elsewhere: in a very large salary, benefits and bonuses which are difficult to audit, unlimited travel and a huge pension pot.

    The key questions are: Where has the money gone and where indeed is the evidence that 3.5 million has been worth the bang?

    I would suggest that Gazelle and its founder colleges should now be immediately brought to account and make public the measurable return for the investments.

    As an addendum, I have just read Barry’s response. Brilliant.

    • Where has the money gone – sadly, I suspect, the money has all been wasted on hotels, flights and slap up meals for the principals along with an ever growing mountain of unsold pants across the Gazelle colleges!!

  21. Fintan Donohue

    Great reporting FE Week! This really is very poor use of public money. I know one of our SMT have been on another Gazelle jolly for the last two days in London at a very posh hotel.

    Why don’t you ask Gazelle what percentage of the money they have spent has gone on senior management, other staff, students. I expect senior management will have used over 90% of the money.

    Our SMT are always swanning around in posh hotels ‘on business’. Maybe another area for future investigation?

  22. Red Fox Reporter

    The red fox reporter is here!

    Gazelle needs to stop right now! It’s gone too far, and I’m really pleased to see that FE Week has taken the time to investigate Gazelle. For me this article is the tip of the iceberg and I urge everyone to come forward and express their views, no matter who you are!

    I’ve been working in one of the founding colleges for a few years now and participated in some of the low level Gazelle events and training.

    Over that time I have learnt a great deal about people and power. Those at the top of Gazelle have got it seriously wrong and what’s even more pleasing to see over the last year is serious moments of doubt whilst they are publicly speaking about how great Gazelle is! It’s not great, far from it! A PR exercise is all it is, with the likes of SevenHills creaming off the public purse. The Pants challenge is a disgrace, we still have pants left in stock from two years ago. Ben Ramsden spotted an opportunity to make some quick cash and never really supported the project. The Gazelle opportunities add to social exclusion, it creates a divide amongst the sector. I remember FE for breaking social barriers and creating an equal opportunity for all.

    Gazelle is an ambitious project and to ensure the Gazelle philosophy worked it will take more than just a few million! The project is beyond the capabilities and skillet of the founding principals. I urge those to rethink their strategy for addressing whatever it is that they are trying to do, even I am at heads with what they are doing. Colleges get back to effective teaching and learning and utilise your business support areas to compliment student experience.

    It’s really disheartening to learn that some of those Colleges who are responsible for this are now at a point where they are making a number of redundancies, mostly people at the bottom.

    Public money has been wasted on this exercise and all I’m left thinking is, that there are some entrepreneurs who claim to now be ‘social entrepreneurs’ who have creamed off the public purse whilst polishing their egos. They are a disgrace and they know who they are!

    A number of our leadership team have been on a numerous leadership programmes, yet we are left the with same leaders who bring nothing back. There’s no feedback and no mechanisms for it.

    The sector is riddled with stress partly because of bad management, managers who have stayed in their posts long enough to claim even more responsibility. The Gazelle agenda adds to that stress, people doing something than know nothing about! I’ve seen non qualified staff members ill advise students on business start ups. I’ve also seen more learning company models this year than I’ve had hot dinners. Some Colleges have been running Learning comapanies for years. I’ve seen competitions amount to nothing, gearing students up for something that only few will get to experience.

    Does Gazelle make a difference? In short YES! To the bank balance!

    As for G, we all know it’s you Fintan, we can all hear that sexy Northern Irish twang!

    It has been a week and yet nobody from Gazelle has responded. Why? Because they are running scared! You put the fear into others, how do you feel now that the tables have turned?

    Come forward people, the more that talk about this the better! Great feedback Barry, coffee sometime?

    The Red Fox Reporter.

  23. Despite the facade created by Seven Hills PR, using public money intended for students, Gazelle is revealed as nothing more than a big dollar sign for Babson College in Boston. Gazelle people have flocked to Boston (one even used the opportunity to travel on to Nevada) to stay in 5 star hotels to learn about enterprise. Oh the irony.

    How can my partner at North Herts College ever appeal to Matthew Hancock again for extra funding when it has invested huge sums (with no sign of any return ever) in world leading ideas such as a car wash and a gym to find the next Dragon in the Den.

    My students though were able to meet one of the Gazelle entrepreneurs when she came to my college. All we had to do was buy 500 copies of her book.

    The Pants man has also been to my college. Nobody had to change theirs though as there was no excitement at all.

    FE Week deserves our thanks for uncovering this massive waste.

    Public money is being stolen in front of our eyes.

    I would like to hear what the AoC has to say.

    Where is the money going? It needs to be returned.

  24. Ethelred

    Reading between the lines and the number of anonymous posts it makes me wonder about the type of cultures that must fester in these so called Gazelle Colleges. I would imagine they are not open, honest, transparent in their approach…..sadly many of the leaders in these organisations have probably never been on a mangement course or learnt how you go about creating change for good in any organisation. OR I might be wrong and they may have been on an expensive leadership programme at Babson £5k a pop or Lough Erne (that’s pronounced Loch BTW) at £6k a pop…..and come back to their day job and realised they have 10,000 emails to answer. And promptly forgotten all they learnt.

    I want to draw your eye to what Sadly Anonymous has very eloquently stated and provided for us. More misuse of public funds to create expensive show piece Stem Centres that are never used costing up to £500,000 of public funds. One could question whether this was ever done properly and according to financial regulations through a proper tendering process and did the SAME company that built the Stem Centre at NHC build the one at their fellow Irish Gazelle College at South West College in Ireland? What did the Governors know you may ask? Did they sanction it? Was this NHC being ‘entrepreneurial’. Sadly we may never know because often Principals are in cahoots with a select number of Governors and are often able to push things through without proper scrutiny. Very often these details are in the small print of reports and staff are never made aware nor understand the way the reports are presented by the Finance Director. Is ‘corrupt’ the right word to use? I will let you be the judge of that. Could we ask the same question about Fit4Less….a franchise bought as a Learning Company at massive expense to the college…that benefits the few. And what is this of a dodgy link between the owner of the franchise and the ex-Principal? Did anyone scrutise this!!!! Probably not…..what is the cost of the franchise per year? Did anyone do a cost benefit analysis? Or is that something entrepreneurs don’t need to do? Or is it a loss leader – a bit like the Pants, The books, the meetings, the staff time, the trips abroad, branding costs, PR costs to Seven Hills……..You can be the judge of that. It does leave a lingering question in my head…..what other financial blunders have been covered up and or explained away or hidden in a drawer somewhere…..?

    I read recently – to my horror – (a joint venture) that NHC is involved in setting up a college in Saudi Arabia. This is truly enterprising. Getting in to bed with one of the most oppressive governments in the World, where human rights and rights of women in particular are suppressed. Or secretly is this another ruse to have holidays in the sun ? May be I am wrong but if current students knew that their college had an association in Saudi they may have something to say about human rights violations, Shariah Law etc etc. All the things leaders forget when they see pound signs ….and a great way to make up for the money spent on Gazelle.

    As for students and parents….should we mention them? Afterall they are the true benefactors of FE Colleges. They are the MOST significant stakeholders. Are students buying the whole vision? (Whatever the vision is?) do they care about coming to a Gazelle College? Is that forefront in their mind when they are deciding where to study? Or do they care about the quality of provision, inspirational teaching and learning, excellent facilities, being treated like an adult, studying with their friends?

    It is a shame that Gazelle have not responded formally to this article but what this article has done has rumbled Gazelle. I do hope the impact scrutiny of this ridiculous venture happens and that those responsible are made accountable. In particular those Governoring Bodies in whom we put our trust to scrutinise and question decisions and how colleges spend money.

    We have seen today another founding Gazelle Principal on the front page of FE Week. Inevitably to leave with an astronomical pay out from the public purse without recourse for the mess left behind which others will pick up. Who will pick up the bill for executive decisions made? Who will suffer? ……YES…students and staff….

    Mr Commissioner take heed. If you can remove Principals …..you can surely ask some hard questions about this wanton waste of public money. Hopefully FE Week will lobby hard for transparency so we can all see for ourselves and be proved wrong (NOT) about what we all know……

    Time to end the Gazelle jolly and focus on students and inspirational Learning and Teaching…..do what colleges do best…!!!

  25. Alisha

    Well done Freddie and FE Week for going behind the Gazelle “curtain” – just as in ‘Wizard of Oz’, there is nothing much behind the curtain, especially if you are an FE student who wants a positive FE experience. Gazelle has totally forgotten about the learners. It’s all about the people at the top.

    But there are questions for others as well.

    Where was the challenge and scrutiny from the Governors at each of the five Gazelle founding colleges?

    Did the Governors really know the full picture about these huge investments that would divert essential cash away from core activities and need?

    How much money has been paid direct to Babson College in the USA?

    How much of the Gazelle money has been spent on consultancy?

    And who are these consultants?

    Follow the money.

    Companies House might have some answers.

    I would think the AoC are very angry.

    There is, surprisingly, silence from 157.

    What must George Osborne think?

    It is such a waste of money. Money the sector needs to be spent correctly.

  26. Louise Doyle

    My comment is not specific on the Gazelle Group as I don’t have direct experience of it other than one exception of a college which has established excellent links with it’s local business community to engage them in the workings of the college.
    What I do however have experience on is writing a research paper on entrepreneurship and enterprise in FE with a case study from a non-Gazelle College. My summation is that there is a confused picture of the differences and overlaps in entrepreneurship/ enterprise edu in FE; the outcome being strategies are not always in place to nuture both suitably or to recognise where it is already happening. In an extension of this, I was discussing this with a group of college managers last week. At least one owned their own business outside of the college linked to the subject area they were responsible for. I’d love to understand how many colleges are capitalising on this knowledge and skill that exists within their own workforce. Sometimes, we look outside for the big names and photo opportunities yet exciting and innovative entrepreneurs exist within our own four walls. Fascinating stuff.

  27. time for change

    I have much direct experience of Gazelle colleges and work with 3 of them very directly in my present role. I think the truth of the matter is that this Government is asking FE colleges to be run like stealthy businesses and yet the principals at these colleges do not have a clue what that means and certainly do not have any of the skills required to do so. I can completely see how this situation has arisen, for what is essentially a dressed up business consultancy to come in and pull the wool over the eyes of these principals is totally understandable. In my experience they are pretty inept at the job they are being asked to do and so will look anywhere for fixes.
    At the same time, the SMT are certainly feathering their own nest. At one of the Gazelle group colleges we work with, the Principal and Finance Director (that title is a laugh it has to be said!) have each given themselves an 11% pay rise, whilst all of the other college staff have not had a rise at all for the last 4 years!! Meanwhile, departments are given 25% of the funding a student attracts to provide them with a great education. Laughable and disgusting beyond belief!
    So where do the governors sit in all of this? Surely it is their responsibility to ensure proper governance at the college? Well, that’s ok if the chair isn’t best friends with the principal which is certainly the case at one of the aforementioned colleges. I fear that the role of governor is often taken too lightly, they themselves have little knowledge or true interest as long as things appear to be going ok. The whole system of governorship needs to be looked at to ensure skilled, objective individuals are given this important task.
    I wonder if FE Week has forwarded this on to one of the broadsheets, who may be interested in a full investigation?

  28. Charlotte

    Lots of opinion around this article but what would be a shame is if we lost sight of the concept behind the original initiative. Ensuring young people are equipped to succeed and that skills and qualifications are most effective when delivered with the broader attributes of enterprise, building confidence and resilience is a good one. It would be sad if the delivery of Entrepreneurship is tarnished due to bad press around Gazelle.

  29. Paul Smithers

    Reading all the replies, I can’t help thinking of those great, social, entrprenurial organisations who train others of all races and classes, and whose senior executives are paid about the same as a senior teacher at college. I refer of course to the Scouts, Guides and Duke of Edinburghs Award Scheme.

    Their product are cohorts of people who are, ‘intellectually creative’, ‘socially active’,’independent reflective learners’ who prize their ability to ‘manage themselves whilst working as part of a team’. Their graduates go on and do such things as climb Everest, run multinational companies, lead political parties, become President of the United States, be the first man on the moon and publicly and proudly recognise the contribution that these organisations have made to their development.

    When Gazelles can match this sort of track record perhaps it could then justify the outragous price of its rehashed intellectual proprty.

    Significantly, these social organisations are run by people who are committed to their values, they perform quite ‘mundane’ roles such as teaching, and leading by example; without worrying about SMT strategy documents – apart from the odd visit from the Distict Organiser, they get on with their job, once trained (a process that takes several years)no one tells them they are incompetent just because their teaching isn’t ‘T’ shaped; or is that ‘L’shaped, I forget, so many new initaitives.

    My point being that these organisations are led by their teachers not by their managers, it is the managers job to support not dictate, a spirit of ‘Primus Inter Pares’ pervades the organisation, very similar to the old idea of colleges being ‘collegiate’.

    Like Gazelles, these organisations took existing educational theories and packaged them into an intellectual product, unlike Gazelles they did not want £500,000 per organisation for it’s use; and presented their ideas in a pragmatic acessible format, just the purchase of a little book – ‘Scouting for Boys’ anyone? or perhaps you might prefer ‘Rovering to Success’

    The success of these ideas were in their enthusiastic adoption by their target audience (we might call them students) not by the imposition of a spurious wisdom gained outside of the classroom, by proponents who, inspite of their undoubted hard work, have achieved their success in more statist settings.

    Incredibly, the people who bought into these revolutionary teaching and learning strategies did so with their own money and time (ie after their normal days/weeks work was done and out of their own incomes), a commitment that appears to be severly lacking the proponents of ‘Gazelles’.

    This lack of commitment on the part of the Founders inevitably leads to the perception by college staffs that their leaders do not appear to belive in what they are saying, something is being hidden, there is another agenda we are not being told about, it’s all smoke and mirrors,some sort of spin or marketing exercise.

    This inevitably leads to the perception that college leadership is by precept not example.

    All good stuff for improving staff motivation.

  30. The Gazelle project merely expresses a more fundamental problem in FE, one rooted in incorporation and the gradual privatisation of public education. Gazelle were always a joke – sustained by public money with lashings of corporate froth. Someone needs to grasp the nettle here, and return further education to local democratic control – strategically planned, accountable and embedded in the wider educational and civic infrastructure. Colleges are community resources first and last, not the personal playthings of chief executives immune to democratic scrutiny. Of course, the ETF won’t call Gazelle to account; it is chaired by a mergers and acquisitions man formally of DC Advisory and Citicorp, not an educator for chri’sakes! But I suspect that FE Week know that!

    • Sorry … that should be Citigroup (not Citicorp), an organisation whose mission statement is as brimming with meaningless adjectives as anything Gazelle has produced!

  31. john dowe 4

    What is all this about entrepreneurship anyway, are we really that stupid?

    Only a very small percentage of the working population will ever be entrepreneurs or make genuine use of entrepreneurship… I’m not sure they fully understand what the word means.

    In order to have successful organisations and a successful economy we need the majority of workers not to be entrepreneurs.

    We can’t all be entrepreneurs or what kind of workforce will we end up with.

    Most workers in the future as in the past will need to be good technical and skilled workers.

    A strong workforce doesn’t consist of a bunch of entrepreneurs, and surely they are aware that most new businesses go bankrupt within the first year or two and the majority of entrepreneurs fail and end up creating debt for themselves and others.

    If entrepreneurship is about taking financial risk then ins’t it basically gambling? yes!

    So we block the national lottery website in all our colleges because we want to discourage gambling to students, yet its of the up-most importance that we teach students to gamble with years of their life and massive sums of borrowed money!!!

  32. Paula Elliott

    £1 Million Pounded Rewarded to Gazelle! It’s on the ETF Website!

    Did you know that the Education and Training Foundation ETF has awarded Gazelle £1000,000! Yes One Million pound for just over a year contract! Not sure what the Skills Minister Matthew Hancock is doing. The contract is for Learning Technologies Support Programme! Are Gazelle the leading technologists in education? This is just incompetency and madness by ETF. It is abuse of public funds.

    Well of course, Gazelle has a seat on the ETF Board. that’s how they can guarantee the hijacking of the gravy train!

    In addition to this large sum, Gazelle goes further to fatten its wallet by charging an annual membership fee from colleges of about £40,000.

    The question I would like ask is: would you want to recruit or keep a teacher for this sort of money or should you pay this ridiculous amount of money as membership fee?

    As a Manager in FE, I don’t feel that anyone is listening to what is really happening here. It’s a great shame that our elected members of Parliament don’t pay attention to such a behaviour and misuse of public funds.

  33. Douglas

    Its really good to read that so many here see what an absurd waste of money and resources an organisation like Gazelle is. It will be interesting to see how many staff are still wearing their Gazelle badges next year.

  34. Melissa Stettens

    Having been privy to the way Gazelle programme is organised I’m not surprised this article has come to light. I believe Gazelle do have good intentions, and I do agree with many of their principles, any organisation or additional curriculum that can help prepare our children for the harsh reality of the workplace should be welcomed with open arms.

    The problem here lies with how it’s delivered, and more importantly who’s delivering it. The Gazelle board members I encountered (delivering the programme) were an absolute shambles, they were out-dated and out of touch with their target audience (the students).

    The problem here doesn’t lie with the programme – it’s the Gazelle board members. Get the right people and get the right results.