In search of new college governors: DfE opens tender for board recruitment service 

The successful bidder will have three years to place at least 134 governors on college boards in return for £485,000

The successful bidder will have three years to place at least 134 governors on college boards in return for £485,000

Around half a million pounds is up for grabs to set up a new governor recruitment service for colleges at risk of intervention. 

The successful bidder will have three years to place at least 134 governors on college boards in return for £485,000. 

Colleges “identified by department colleagues” will have access to the service which will seek out new board members for them for free from September 2022. 

FE Week understands that the new targeted recruitment service will replace the Inspiring FE Governance programme, which was open to all colleges and training providers with governance vacancies. 

Procurement documents seen by FE Week show that at least 50 per cent of governors recruited by the successful bidder will have to be women and at least 30 per cent must be from black, Asian and other ethnic minority backgrounds. 

At least 80 per cent of newly sourced governors must be in post for at least six months. 

Governance experts have welcomed the new service and its requirements on the winning supplier to increase diversity on college boards. 

Fiona Chalk, founder and CEO of Governance4FE, told FE Week that investment in governor recruitment “shows an important direction of travel on the professionalisation of college governance.” 

The diversity and skills sets of college boards was flagged as a priority area for the government in its 2021 further education white paper, Skills for Jobs. The document committed the DfE to provide “more support for college corporation boards to develop their capacity and build a diverse membership that better reflects their local areas”. 

As well as bolstering board membership, the white paper also promised a review of the process for paying board chairs, refreshed guidance on the appointment of senior leaders and new requirements for regular external governance reviews. 

Firms bidding to win DfE’s recruitment contract will be expected to ensure that “cognitive diversity” and “diversity of knowledge and experience” is considered alongside traditional equalities characteristics such as gender, age, race, religion and sexual orientation. 

This new service will only be available for colleges referred to it by the DfE itself, likely through its territorial teams and the further education commissioner. 

This isn’t the first time struggling colleges have had access to free governor search support. 

The government funded a pilot of a fully subsidised governor recruitment service in 2020/21. The £110,000 pilot contract was won by Peridot Partners. 

Peridot’s director of education practice Drew Richardson-Walsh told FE Week that the department’s focus on diversity was “really positive” and revealed that 36 per cent of governors recruited through the pilot were women and 38 per cent came from a BAME background. 

While tender documents state that colleges “experiencing considerable difficulty” can apply directly to the DfE to access the service, Chalk said that a lack of a sector-wide universal service for governor recruitment was “disappointing, but in this case understandable”. 

The Inspiring FE Governance matching service was launched by the Education and Training Foundation in 2017. Unlike the recruitment service DfE are currently tendering for, Inspiring FE Governance was accessible to all colleges and training providers. An independent evaluation of the programme said that it had been “largely successful” and that the DfE had agreed to continue to fund the ETF to run it in 2021/22. 

This has not been the case, however. The ETF’s national head of governance development, Kurt Hall, confirmed that “the DfE has decided to replace Inspiring FE Governance with a revised programme of support for the recruitment of governors. 

“As part of the ETF’s ongoing efforts to provide high-quality training in this area for the sector, we are developing new qualifications for governance professionals, as well as offering a variety of other programmes and support for college boards. We are excited about this programme of leadership and governance support and more details will follow on this in due course.” 



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2 Comments

  1. David Drake

    “Procurement documents seen by FE Week show that at least 50 per cent of governors recruited by the successful bidder will have to be women and at least 30 per cent must be from black, Asian and other ethnic minority backgrounds. ”

    Is this actually legal? Will it mean that men applying will be blocked if it looks like the “quota” will be broken. That would breach the Equality Act. Perhaps someone should ask the DfE how they comply?

    • Phil Hatton

      There is always a potential problem when setting a quota rather than outlining an aspiration to reflect the makeup of the population. It should be the best person for the particular role that is being filled above all if new governors are to play the required role in turning colleges around. It is still a problem that in colleges, those from particular backgrounds, do not make up enough of a proportion of management staff and this of course then is compounded in the most senior positions. As usual those with disabilities do not even get a mention in these aspirational targets. My worry as in all these quangos is that those who employ the best professional bid writers are the ones who win contracts. At least these days more thought is given to not having a dozen men in suits as the governing body, which was often seen in the early days of the FEFC on inspection. But at least they identified it and set it as an area to improve.