How do you handle your new principal’s demands? Is the managing director refusing to budge? Dr Sue Pember, the former head of FE and skills investment at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), who was awarded an OBE for services to the sector in 2000, puts her extensive sector knowledge to good use for FE Week.

On the third Monday of every month she answers your questions, backed by the experience of almost a decade as principal of Canterbury College, in addition to time served in further senior civil service posts at the Department for Education and Employment, Department for Education and Skills, and Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills.

Email to ask her your question.


How can governors govern and set an annual budget when they don’t know their funding allocation and the goal posts keep moving?

I know that some governors are having doubts about continuing as governors when they feel it is virtually impossible to conduct their duty of setting a timely budget so that actions required to balance the books can be planned and implemented in a proficient manner — but I would urge them to reconsider.

We are in really difficult times. This is when senior teams really need their governors’ support internally and representation externally.

Although there may be more austerity cuts, I still have the conviction that the argument for investing in learning and developing basic and enhanced skills will come through. In these difficult times, colleges need to regroup and remodel their offer so they can meet futures challenges. They need strong governance to support and help steer them through this period of instability.


My college wants to change its name and as the clerk I have been asked to advise the board on what the criteria should be. What advice might I give?

This is a sensitive issue and the Secretary of State has to make the final decision and will turn down names if they are thought to be unsuitable.

Useful guidance which sets out the process to be followed has been published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The guidance states that a corporation name should not be confusing or misleading and as such should not wrongly suggest regional or national pre-eminence, or imply that a college serves a wider or different area than is the case.Dear-sue-cartoon-142

Therefore it is very important for the board to consult widely and listen to people’s views. Do not underestimate the difficulty — there needs to be a real burning reason to change and it is very hard to get a new name established.

I know of several colleges who used to have ‘Technical’ in their name and even 30 years on from the name change they are still known locally as “the Tech”. Mind you, with the ways things are going they might want to revert and add ‘Higher’ while they are at it.

For me the real test is — would you want that name on your or child’s CV?


What is Prevent and what is a governor’s role?

Colleges have a duty to safeguard their students. Prevent is about safeguarding students to keep them secure from being exploited by extremists and it is now covered in the Home Office guidance. The Education Training Foundation (ETF) has some very timely and good information on this matter and they also set out the role of governors. The Prevent duty is not about suppressing students from having political and religious views but about keeping them safe.

As set out in the new Association of Colleges Good Governance Code, governors must enhance their safeguarding policy and adopt the Prevent duty and actively engage with other partners, including the police and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills regional Higher and Further Education Prevent co-ordinators to carry out the Prevent duty.



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