Subcontracting and ‘too comfortable’ governors top FE Commissioner concerns for colleges

The FE Commissioner has also claimed some T Level courses have been withdrawn because colleges haven't been able to find the staff

The FE Commissioner has also claimed some T Level courses have been withdrawn because colleges haven't been able to find the staff

12 Dec 2022, 16:43

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The FE Commissioner has repeated her warning over colleges’ use of subcontracting in her latest annual report. 

Now in her second year as FE Commissioner, Shelagh Legrave also said colleges’ vulnerability to cyber-attacks and the number of “too comfortable” governors that have served more than ten years are what she sees as “persistent problems”.

The report repeats Legrave’s concerns over the quality of oversight of subcontracting first revealed by FE Week at the AoC’s annual conference in November. The Commissioner claims that economic climate is making learner recruitment harder for colleges and therefore more likely to turn to subcontracting to fulfil their contracts:

“The economic climate is causing more adults to work rather than taking training opportunities, so the temptation for colleges is to use subcontracting as a way of fulfilling contracts. There is a place for local subcontracting, but it is vital that this is overseen appropriately, both from a quality and a funding perspective” the report states.

On governance, Legrave said she is concerned by “the number of boards where governors have served for more than ten years.” Adding: “Whilst the time given by these governors as volunteers is hugely appreciated, it is often too comfortable a relationship with the senior team.”

Legrave first warned that some colleges were withdrawing from “priority courses” in her interview with FE Week last month, highlighting that the colleges “can’t find the staff to deliver them.” 

She goes slightly further in her annual report this year, saying: “Some colleges are having to withdraw some T Level courses due to lack of staff to deliver them, with shortages extending to support services too.”

The Department for Education have been approached to clarify which colleges have had to withdraw from T Level delivery due to staff shortages.

Commissioner intervention

Just three intervention reports have been published by the FE Commissioner over this reporting period; City LitKingston Maurward College and City College Southampton.

Two full intervention assessments took place, both due to financial triggers, the annual report states.

Just one college received a new diagnostic assessment this year, but 25 follow-up visits took place in 22 colleges. One of those was escalated to intervention. 

Nine colleges formally exited intervention this year, a similar number to the ten that exited the year before.

However six of those are still under monitoring through the Commissioner’s new post-intervention monitoring and support (PIMS) category. 

Diagnostic assessments will now be known as health checks and will be offered as part of the FEC’s active support offer and will be available colleges on request, as previously announced. Twenty six diagnostic assessments took place in 21/22, up one from 20/21.

Two structure and prospects appraisals (SPAs) took place, which resulted in the merger of Selby College with Wakefield College, forming the Heart of Yorkshire Education Group, in March, and Berkshire College of Agriculture’s merger with The Windsor Forest Colleges Group in July.

This is down from five SPAs in 20/21.

And the national leaders have been busier this year than last having visited 54 principals, CEOs and boards in this reporting year, up from 40 the year before. There are currently 12 national leaders of further education and 8 national leaders of governance. 

One national leader of governance, Andrew Baird, resigned earlier this year after being found to have shared a racist meme on WhatsApp following the appointment of Rishi Sunak as prime minister.

FE Commissioner report in numbers

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  1. Stefan Drew

    The potential for cyber attacks is worrying and colleges have suffered severe attacks in the past.
    I automatically monitor a lot of FE websites and often warn colleges when they crash. Sadly I’m often told that IT either say they didn’t crash or that they’ve now fixed them … often they’ve only used a plaster when they actually needed major surgery.
    On being asked to check out education websites I’ve found sites using out of date php versions, that have not had security updates for several years. Another common problem are WP plug-ins that have not been updated or are compatible with the theme being used.
    In some cases it is possible to hack into internal systems via the website. But even where it isn’t possible it is indicative of poor IT security and is a red flag a potential hacker can observe to find vulnerable college systems.
    It saddens me to find the FE Commissioner reporting what I’ve been warning colleges about for many years.

    • Whilst the external college websites are often essential pieces of a college’s digital footprint, they rarely (if ever) contain sensitive information. The internal databases and records systems are separate and require higher levels of authentication to access. These are the ones colleges should be worried about securing, as data breaches of these systems containing the highest level of confidential information (safeguarding issues, health issues, wellbeing issues) are stored there.