Guild to meet at Windsor Castle for ‘complex thinking time’

Twenty-nine “key people” from FE have been invited to eat, drink, sleep and “think” in secret at Windsor Castle about the sector’s new professional body.

A spokesperson for the proposed FE Guild — which will set professional standards across the sector — said it had hired St George’s House, a retreat within the castle, for 26 hours from May 13 to allow delegates to “commit their time to confidential thinking” and to  “help drive forward” the body due to launch in August.

She said the delegates — including Skills Minister Matthew Hancock — had been asked along to ensure the guild was committed to being “sector-owned and led” and “fully fit for purpose”. But while the guild confirmed 27 delegates would attend, a spokesperson for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) said the meeting was “not in the ministers diary”.

The new body — yet to be officially named — would foot the £8,265 bill, equal to £285 per person, to include lunch, a three-course dinner, drinks and accommodation, the guild spokesperson said.

It represents fair value for delegates who we are asking to commit to 26 hours of their time to complex, in-depth and detailed confidential thinking on behalf of the sector.”

But one FE leader, who did not wish to be named, told FE Week: “I question the wisdom of spending money on high profile external venues when funding is so tight, redundancies are rife and any number of boardrooms could have been used at little cost.”

The guild spokesperson defended the move saying: “While this is, of course, more than we spend on routine events, it is appropriate for a strategic sector-wide meeting that will shape the guild over the next decade and represents fair value for delegates who we are asking to commit to 26 hours of their time to complex, in-depth and detailed confidential thinking on behalf of the sector.”

Over the two days, delegates would consider the body’s priorities, and strategic and operational relationships with employers, and would agree on what was meant by “collective leadership”.  Represented bodies would be invited to commit to the new organisation.

The spokesperson added: “The venue was chosen because of its values of openness, honesty, trust and respect.

“People from all areas of society, holding diverse views, opinions and beliefs attend St George’s to debate freely. It is important to all of us in the learning and skills sector that this is the spirit in which we, too, can shape our own future at this strategically crucial time.”

Described on its website as a “safe haven, an environment receptive to new ideas, to taking risks, to living at the intellectual edge,” the venue also gives delegates the chance to pray three times over their stay.

In a leaflet advertising the venue it says: “The offering of prayer in the chapel finds a practical expression in consultations, where the house offers space for nurturing wisdom.”

FE Week reported last month that BIS had confirmed funding, excluding VAT, of £18.8m for August to April next year and the same figure again for 2014-15 to develop the guild.

David Hughes, independent chair of the guild’s development steering group and chief executive of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, said at that time the group would now be able to recruit a chief executive before its launch.

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  1. Jayne Stigger

    29 ‘key people’ banqueting and pontificating on our behalf, with not a student voice amomngst them? Is this really how the Guild wants to be viewed? The new FE guild should consider the impact of this rather profligate behaviour and how it will engender support of FE staff; support it needs to reach its objectives? An FE Guild which is not fully inclusive cannot meet our needs or be truly representative of all FE. I am saddened to see a return to this form of leadership. I would strongly question the wisdom of such ‘leadership’ and decisions in such financially difficult times. Does the Guild have ‘added value’?

  2. Krissy Charles-Jones

    As well as student voices the guild needs the voices of small businesses and sub contractors. I would like to see the new guild have the authority to act when subcontractors face difficulties because their prime has acted negligently. Something that is increasingly happening, effecting thousands of learners and small businesses in the sector. The guild needs to bring real value to the sector and not just be another money draining quango!

    • John Germain

      The funny thing about so-called ‘student voice’ is that their voice so often sounds like that of sector management. Be interesting to share people’s experience of the ‘student voice’, including the methodologies used for gathering and interpreting this voice. An MA dissertation for someone. But hey why not small businesses and sub-contractors and sub-sub contractors and corner shop owners and self-appointed community leaders and HR directors of medium sized widget makers – in fact anyone and everyone except the teachers who do the business day and day out. This is all such a pile of bollocks. In many colleges, staff representatives are starting redundancy talks whilst cuts and course closures are becoming commonplace. FE is in a state of crisis and a bunch of 29 persons unknown go for a f***ing jolly in a royal palace – aspirational or what …

  3. Ian Woodall

    Sorry, but thats probably better value than you would get by hosting the same thing in a Novotel. I want to know how the minister got such a good deal out of Her Majesty! But to be serious the outcome of the event will be more important than the flim flam about the cost and setting. What will this Guild do? what will it stand for? What are its goals? etc. I do hope that the government does not go for policy development by “supper club” and holds full consultation on the conclusions of this event.

  4. Greg Wood

    And the roundabout goes on… if you have been in FE long enough you will have experienced all of the ‘Improvement’ initiatives… all of sudden it is new, and fresh, and committed to this ideal, that goal etc. What we really need at this time is stability, something that will last the tests of government policy changes , minister’s whims and fancies, and whatever is blowing in the wind.

    Surely the great and the good can come up with a lasting model that includes the relevant stakeholders, takes into account users views, and uses the professionals within the sector to drive up standards where needed and acknowledge quality where it exits.

    Just a final point on ‘value for money’. did anyone notice the proposed location for the new Guild , yes, London. Apparently there would have been a £60,000 saving if they had located to Coventry, but in the scheme of 18m it was not considered a deal breaker- Makes you wonder what the cash strapped sector would do with 60k – So much for HS2 initiative and bringing investment and jobs away from the South.

  5. I wonder who the 29 key people are and I wonder how many are members of common purpose. I suspect FE Week will delete this comment as they don’t seem to like comments that question things going on in the FE sector.

    Perhaps the great and good should start listening to those who actually generate revenue for colleges by teaching students.

  6. There truly is nothing new under the sun. LLUK was born out of a confidential meeting of the great and good held at ….. St George’s House. When it was clear that LLUK was straying from its original brief it was ‘re-purposed’ at a confidential meeting of the great and good held at ….. St George’s House. When the QIA came into being it was via a confidential meeting of the great and good held at ….. St George’s House. Need I go on?

    The “employer-led quality improvement body previously known as the FE Guild” (that’s the ELQIBPKFEG for initialism fanatics) could have broken the mould. It could have utilised 21stC technology and had its meeting in a public place (I understand many colleges have such places) with sector-wide participation through the web. It could hit the ground running as an engaged, teacher and learner focussed organisation. It could have demonstrated it was going to be different to all that has gone before. It could have shown that it had inspirational leadership, prepared to take risks and look to be fully inclusive from day one. It could have demonstrated, from the off, that it wasn’t a bunch of organisational egos trading vested interests behind closed doors but was, instead, a transparent bunch of visionaries prepared to set aside old grudges and wounds for the sake of teachers and learners. It could have done all these things and more, but instead reverted to type.

    When there was the postulating and public positioning from the ELQIBPKFEG’s constituent bodies over its name, I wrote a blog post ( The essence of this being that the struggle to name the organisation was a mask for a deeper concern: the inability of the constituent bodies to set aside their vested interests. No doubt a concordat will emerge from St George’s House. Who knows, maybe there will also be a new name. Please forgive me if I give it less than two years for the ELQIBPKFEG to go the way of all the others, with an organisational culture influenced by the interests of the constituent bodies and in need of review and reformation. I hope to be proved wrong.

    • It could have but it hasn’t. So yet again FE (all of FE, not just colleges) are to be lumbered with another set of initials whose vision is convergent upon its own needs rather than divergent upon the needs of the sector it purports to represent. This isn’t just reverting to type, it is an antedeluvian attitude that will hinder us and our learners whilst sitting remote but pretty on their top table. I give it a year. Lindsay is absolutely spot on with her observation that this Guild appears more concerned with appearance and window-dresssing than with action. In our 20th year, have the Great and the Good learned nothing?

  7. lindsay mccurdy

    Would the 29 people come forward so that we can see if the Guild is reaching out to all in the sector , will it be the same old faces all talking from the same hymn sheet who if we are being honest have made a complete mess of it to date, we have many areas that need to be addressed and it is time we dealt with then, stop sidestepping and ignoring and going round and round in circles Put the taxpayers money which you have been given to good use for the improvement of the sector and the unemployed. The Press realise from the guild would seem to be all about the venue and not the purpose of the meeting and what the outcome of this confidential thinking will be, The guild had a great chance to be seen as a positive for the sector and to involve people who are not normally give a chance to be heard but it has already started to go in the opposite direction. What a opportunity missed

  8. John Germain

    My friend cites Yeats whenever we discuss this kind of thing: ‘The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity’. I prefer Jimi Hendrix’s ‘castles made of sand fall in the sea’.