DfE drive to improve FE governance and staff retention

Early notices for contracts worth over £10 million have been published for mentoring and governance commitments

Early notices for contracts worth over £10 million have been published for mentoring and governance commitments

Schemes to address governance and professional development commitments in the government’s Skills for Jobs white paper are in the works as part of efforts to bolster FE staff retention and drive-up leadership standards. 

The Department for Education this week published early notice of two contracts expected to go out for tender later this month – one worth £9.5 million on delivering a programme of continuous professional development (CPD) for leaders and governors, and a planned £1.2 million tender for a mentoring programme for new and inexperienced teachers. 

Both are linked to commitments in the DfE’s Skills for Jobs white paper, which voiced ambitions to improve governance standards and help retain sector staff. 

The DfE’s governance and leadership CPD notice said it aims to “strengthen leadership and governance capacity; equip FE governors, governance professionals and current/aspiring executive leaders with the knowledge and skills they need to successfully lead their corporations and colleges at a time of change; support the growth of a diverse leadership pipeline and aid the development of a self-improving sector”. 

That contract is set to start in February 2023 and end in March 2025. 

In the FE white paper, the government said there would be higher expectations of governance through clearer requirements, reviews and training, and “empower weaker colleges to address problems earlier”. 

The white paper, published in January 2021, also said it would expect college leaders and corporation board members to undergo training and support those with high potential, and wanted diversity of skills and backgrounds in governing boards. 

Poor leadership and governance has previously been cited by the FE Commissioner’s office as a key reason for some high-profile failures. One example was Hadlow College, which folded after entering education administration in November 2019 owing £40 million to more than 300 companies

The FE Commissioner’s report in the spring of 2019 said: “Governance at Hadlow College is complex, lacks transparency and is ineffective,” and added that governors had “belatedly, become aware of the extremely serious financial situation”. The group principal and deputy principal were found to have “regularly made decisions themselves outside of executive and any open discussion – and reacted strongly to questioning or challenge”. 

The DfE’s proposed mentoring contract, planned to run for two years from April 2023, aims to offer support and training to FE professionals to act as mentors for new and inexperienced teachers, and assist with wellbeing and mental health of newly appointed FE teachers to “aid their professional and personal development to become excellent teachers”.  

Retention of FE teachers has been an ongoing issue in the sector, with industry estimates that college teachers earn up to £9,000 less than school teachers. 

A University and College Union survey of 2,700 members published in the summer said that seven in ten were considering walking away from the sector as a result of low pay and escalating cost-of-living pressures. 

The white paper said that teachers and lecturers were not always able to take advantage of professional development opportunities that could help them progress in their career. It referenced a college staff survey from 2020 which reported that 52 per cent of those who left the sector said they would have been more likely to stay if more training and development opportunities were available.  

The contracts look set to add to existing governance and leadership programmes. 

The Education and Training Foundation offers several programmes, including a leadership mentoring scheme, a new to senior leadership course, governance development initiative, and mentoring and development programme for governance professionals. 

The Association of Colleges in the last few years secured ETF contracts to progress a governance development framework all about improving the skills of both new and existing governing board members and clerks.  

The early notice tenders appear to represent the latest measures around staffing in the government’s white paper. 

In January, the DfE launched the new Teach in FE campaign – a scheme encouraging skilled industry professionals to take up part-time teaching roles. 

Key industries in need of teachers include construction, engineering and manufacturing, legal, finance, accounting, digital, and health and social care. 

In addition, the DfE last year pumped £3 million into expanding the Taking Teaching Further scheme – another white paper commitment – with the ambition of bringing another 4,000 teachers into the sector. 

That project launched in 2018 with 50 places, expanding to 550 in 2020. The DfE said that had grown to 710 places in 2022/23. 

The government also pledged to introduce a new workforce industry exchange programme across a range of sectors in the white paper. 

“This will build the capacity of the further education workforce by supporting providers to engage in a sustainable, two-way exchange with industry, building up long-lasting networks with employers,” the document said, although no more details have emerged since then. 

The DfE said the latest measures represented a continuation of white paper commitments, and the teacher mentoring programme will include tax-free bursaries worth up to £26,000 each to support teacher training in priority subjects

It added that data on the Teach in FE campaign will be released next year, with future initiatives including a competency framework for governors.

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  1. Leaders and teachers are supported in their work by lots of technicians, administrators, analysts etc. When was the last time you saw those roles covered in schemes like this?

    It’s almost as if there is a belief that those roles can be filled easily, that loss of experience or vacancies has no effect and that churn within support staff has no effect on teaching and learning.

    Trickle down workforce development…