Andy Wilson, who heads up one of the largest college groups in the country, explains why size does matter

Large college groups are too easily dismissed as money-saving exercises, but this attitude overlooks the other benefits of scale.

The College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London is the latest member of the Capital City College Group (CCCG), joining City and Islington College, Westminster Kingsway College and our training division, Capital City College Training, to form one of the largest training organisations in the country. We will engage 37,000 students each year, employ 1,700 staff and spend an annual budget approaching £110 million, as big as many universities.

It is true that we will review costs and invest in systems to enable smarter working, which in turn will free resources to be focused on teaching, learning and support for students and professional development for staff. However, CCCG’s size provides many more opportunities.

A large college group can provide the best education and training across the widest range of specialisms with simple signposting for those accessing these services. All three colleges have specialisms and a national profile amongst employers, and at least one of our colleges provides programmes to at least level three in every area except agriculture and horticulture.

The group’s colleges will maintain a considerable level of autonomy

Combined with this breadth of opportunity for students, we will maintain the individual identity of each college and thus remain true to the local communities we serve. While the administrative processes will be centralised and the learner record will remain with CCCG, the student experience – including websites and marketing – is designed around the college they’re enrolled at.

Our apprenticeship provision will be centralised in Capital City College Training – the fourth delivery arm of the group, with employers as its key clients. Its staff and systems will be designed to provide a simple service to businesses and a single gateway to the widest range of apprenticeships of any provider in London.

The group’s colleges will maintain a considerable level of autonomy: college boards will continue to oversee the strategic plan, quality assurance and student satisfaction, much the same as a typical college. However the group board, which will oversee most of the finances, holds the ultimate accountability.

The group also provides a safe, conducive environment for staff to share their experiences and learn from an extended network without the pressures of competition. We will invest at least £500,000 per year in a development and innovation unit to support colleagues in developing professional practice and innovating their curriculum delivery.

Of course CCCG’s size never provides a guarantee against failure, but we can marshal resources to provide extra support to areas requiring improvement. Again, the safe environment allows us to exchange data and other intelligence to identify where support is required and how this can be directed to aid improvement strategies.

We welcome discussions with Ofsted over inspection arrangements, but our structure allows much of the present model of inspecting individual colleges can be maintained.

We will always have a traditional FE ethic at our heart

CCCG has no plans to bring in more members, though we are developing proposals for a group institute of technology specialising in life sciences, to meet the needs of the London employment market. This is an exciting development in partnership with Middlesex University, and is already attracting substantial employer interest.

We are committed to leading and supporting other partnerships that enable us to improve and extend services for our students and employers. Over the coming years we will want to explore how we develop a wider suite of professional training. We will always have a traditional FE ethic at our heart, but we want to be trusted by businesses to outsource all their training and workforce development.

Not every college will want or be able to be part of a group. However, we believe Capital City College Group, its partner colleges and training provider will be crucial to meeting the demands for a skilled and productive indigenous workforce, something ever more crucial to post-Brexit London.

Andy Wilson is CEO of the Capital City College Group

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