From education to employment

College governance: a guide

The Department for Business Innovation and Skills has published a governance document setting out how and to whom further education colleges are accountable. As the guide explains, it sets out the means by which colleges are accountable to the learners, employers and communities they serve and how current accountability mechanisms are changing to reflect the evolving delivery landscape.

Further education colleges were given many freedoms under the Education Act 2011 to fulfil their role as social enterprises: enterprising in the ways that they attract funding from a wide range of sources and interacting directly with business. The guide is being produced as a result of these greater freedoms and flexibilities to ensure that there is a responsibility within a clear accountability framework. The guide will be of particular interest to governing bodies, governors including principals and those who work with them such as clerks and senior post holders.

The guide is set out into four sections: what FE colleges are, what they provide, how they are held to account and constitutional issues including incorporation, changing structures and dissolution. The sections are clearly set out, emphasising what colleges should be doing in each area.

In terms of the constitution of FE colleges, they are based through the powers confirmed under the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, with most colleges becoming incorporated in April 1993. Their principal powers are to provide further and higher education, provide secondary education to those aged 14 and above, participating the provision of secondary education in school and supplying goods or services in connection with their provision of education.

In terms of what FE colleges provide there are essentially five key outcomes for publically funded skills provision:

• Education and training that provides the skills that employers and higher education institutions need and value;

• Education and training that provides knowledge and skills individuals need to gain employment, change employment, progress in work and progress to high levels of education and training;

• Training that provides strategically important skills the nation needs;

• Value for money for businesses, individuals, the state; and

• Positive community and social outcome.

In terms of accountability of FE colleges, the guide provides those which it would expect colleges to produce. The importance of taking ownership of the skill system and creating own outcome measures should not be understated. The guide provides significant amount of detail on provider performance and pilot schemes for producing easily accessible data such as student destinations.

In terms of constitutional issues, the Government’s intention is to see a dynamic market of FE provision where high quality providers respond to a particular demand and can demonstratively meet the needs of learners, employers and those of their local economic environment. Further information is provided in relation to how colleges can change their constitution, including merger and dissolution.

Overall, the guide is to be welcome news providing further clarification on the roles and responsibilities of FE colleges. The guide does not set out any new specific government policy. However, it contains important points on what the Government expects of FE colleges and on their particular outcomes. Principals and Governors should clearly read the Guidance and what it entails. Whilst virtually all colleges will be aware of the principles espoused in the document, it serves as a timely reminder of FE Governance generally.

Matthew Kelly is a partner at Thomas Eggar, the law firm

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