Departing Hull College chair lashes out at ‘failure’ of government oversight

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Daf Williams, just hours after a shock resignation from the position of chair to the board of Hull College Group, has denied there has been a failure of governance and instead accused the government regulators of failing to do their jobs.

The resignation came on the day of a visit from the FE Commissioner’s team and shortly after FE Week revealed the new interim chief executive had launched an investigation into a £240,000 three-year rugby stadium naming sponsorship deal.

Read the statement from Williams, sent to FE Week, in full:

“I am very sad to be leaving a role that I have thoroughly enjoyed. Hull College has some amazing people and I am very glad to have been involved. I joined the Board as Chair two years ago, with the College already two years into intervention by the FE Commissioner taking on the challenge as a volunteer to try to help turn around the College’s fortunes. I have since then put in countless hours for free, working alongside many other volunteers on the governing body, all committed to give our time to try to make a difference.

“Sadly balancing a busy working life and these commitments have proved too much.

“I am aware of the criticism of governance at the college. I believe Hull College has a very strong governing body which has been improved greatly in recent months, but whilst I do not accept there is a failure of governance it is clear that I have been chair for two years and improvement has not been at the pace we would have hoped in that time.

“I have a strong view that if the charge that we have failed as governors is to stick, then there is also a failure on the part of our regulators. They have had all of the same information as we have had over the last four years of intervention and if we have missed things not being done correctly then so have they. Whilst we as governors are all enthusiastic amateurs volunteering our time to try to help, they are specialist professionals from the sector, paid to spot these matters, which sadly they have not.

“As a former council leader, I have a good understanding of how intervention works in local government, where officials are embedded in the organisation they are seeking to turn around and where they genuinely work collaboratively to try to fix the problem. Sadly that does not seem to be the approach from the FE Commissioner team, where intervention is really just a form of regular inspection, making occasional visits to observe and make recommendations, then leaving for you to fend for yourself. I do hope in the future, the process for intervention is reformed, to offer more support for volunteer governors, to help them to get it right.”

Picture: Daf Williams at a Hull College Group graduation ceremony in October 2019



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5 Comments

  1. richard moore

    Well said by the departing chair at Hull College. It is all too easily forgotten that governors are mostly volunteers with some, but in most cases limited, knowledge of the sector. They are at the behest of the Chief Executive and senior leadership team in terms of what they are being told and it can be very challenging to continually doubt what they are, or aren’t, telling you. I have thought for some time that governors are a very easy target and therefore almost always seemingly the ‘fall guy’. Ofsted does an excellent job on the whole, but I have strong doubts about some other regulatory interventions. It’s all too easy just to criticise and then walk away from the situation.…

    • There is this, but should well meaning amateurs be essentially trustees of multi million pound corporations?

      There are some absolute horror stories in the sector and yes, they are at the mercy of Senior Postholders but that’s the role,is it not? The plural of data isn’t anecdote but I have seen first hand the damage that governors cause to colleges,especially those with hubris and excrement for brains who do it for personal gain (not all may I add but a significant minority who believe whatever the SLT tell them)

      As mentioned further on is it now time for non exec directors?

  2. What a surprise

    And we are surprised FE commissioner intervention just creates jobs for his mates coupled with no discernible accountability or real impact.

    Bail them out, blame the principal, SMT, and fire the board. Public humiliation. oversight fails by government. FE commissioner intervention

    No personal agendas obviously.

    Repeat.

  3. The approach to intervention will always divide opinion as I would prefer a hands off regulatory approach allowing me the freedoms to implement improvements, whilst others would prefer commissioners to be imbedded into the team providing hands on support.
    What’s clear though is that governing bodies of organisations with responsibilities on this scale should be paid non-executive directors. The role of chair, or others on the board is demanding in a successful college but asking anyone to volunteer the time required by a chair or others on the board when managing formal intervention will often lead to these people being too heavily relied on, particularly when they rely on income from elsewhere.
    The responsibility of governors is significant and having a professionally competent paid board can not only enhance an organisation but also justifiably hold them to account.

  4. Phil Hatton

    Being a chair of governors is certainly not always easy but there are certain big ticket items like £240,000 sponsorship of a local club that would surely have to be justified to and approved by the board? We have had two FE Commissioners and I learnt a lot more about what was going wrong in the sector from the first one [the list of 10 factors in failing colleges still holds true]- whether this was due to things changing since he finished or the quality of the insights made? Having the right people on the intervention teams is also very difficult as some of the best senior staff retire and want to literally ‘hang their boots up’. Chairs cannot rely on the level of intervention that we have sometimes seen or colleges will not be able to fend properly for themselves. What is clear is that having financial experts on Ofsted inspection teams [as occurred in the not too distant past] and highly experienced college inspectors paying at least two visits a year, gave much more of an insight / oversight into where a college or indeed a large ITP was going with an early warning. Cost cutting these areas has not been without consequences and there is little to learn from reading the current style of Ofsted report. It would be useful for governance to be properly reported and graded again by Ofsted – with specialist inspectors to do the job who will get to know the best practice in the sector and write in an informative way about what works and what is causing problems. All chairs need boards who will challenge their colleges appropriately, talking to learners and staff themselves. I have worked with several boards and from that know there are some really excellent people who want to give something back to their communities through influencing the often second chance education available. I hope that Hull can attract someone who can make the difference Hull needs. As someone else said, the college has a fairly dominant presence because of geography and just needs the right steer in the places that experienced managers should be identifying and making.