Dr Sue, director of policy and external relations at Holex, answers your questions on college governance, backed by her experience as principal of Canterbury College and in senior civil service posts in education and skills.

Question One: Devolution

What can governors do to reassure staff about their jobs as we move to funding devolution?

Answer: Although devolution to combined authorities doesn’t come in until 2019/20 and covers only eight areas, it amounts to half the students and half the total national adult education budget. It will touch not only all colleges and providers in the CAs, but also those who border on a CA or work nationally.

I understand why staff and managers are concerned. They know CA strategic planning really needs to happen this winter. Prospectuses for the 2019/20 academic year would normally be ready in the year before enrolment, and devolved areas need to be in a position to say what they will be commissioning in the spring of 2018. Without plans in place, staff will feel vulnerable.

The other major concern is the impact on financial viability for a whole college, provider or service. Although only the AEB is being devolved to CAs, most colleges operate a mixed model, where programmes are only viable to run if both adult and young people’s funding is available.

It is important as governors for you to ensure there is early dialogue with the relevant CAs and start to assess risk and impact immediately.


Question Two: Lobbying

With the current environment, it seems most of what matters is outside our control. How can we influence higher authorities to make sure we have been heard?

Answer: Setting the strategic vision is a vital for governors and to do that effectively you really need not only to understand the national policy landscape but also your local requirements.

It is your role to ensure your institution’s plan and education offer meets the needs of your locality. If there are rules in the system, or barriers to doing what is needed, they need to be flagged up to the government, either directly or through your representative bodies. If that doesn’t work, talk to your MP.

It is for you to lead the skills agenda, and advocacy should be seen as an important characteristic of a 21st century governing body.


Question Three: T-levels

I’m beginning to believe all T-levels will do is reduce the number of students on A-levels and displace BTECs. This might improve the technical brand image, but what’s in it for students without five good GCSEs?

Answer: I think the direct answer is not much! Many of us have been here before, but previous attempts to ensure parity between academic and vocational routes have understood the need for a proper progression route and allowed those who were failed by the secondary school system to regroup and start afresh on a level two or even a level one vocational route.

Like you, I think more work needs to be done on working out who are the client group for this award. At present, it looks like T-levels are just for those with five to eight good GCSEs including maths and English, who want an alternative to A-levels. This is fine, but really, can we afford to spread these students thinly, which will result in inefficient class sizes, and would not they not do just as well in their future careers by doing A-levels?

What I would like to see is as much energy and resource going into supporting the 40 per cent of young people who will not be eligible for T-levels. The present offer of traineeships and a transition year is not sufficiently intensive or resourced. 

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