Eddie Playfair

As our Chief Executive David Hughes said in his closing speech, we may not have had any politicians or civil servants making announcements at AoC conference this year, but our students were more visible and audible than ever before and this is a very welcome development.

As at previous conferences, we celebrated the successes of college students, showcased their talents and provided many work experience opportunities. But this year, for the first time, a substantial number of student governors from colleges across the country took part in the first day of the conference, following a day of intensive student governor training organised by social enterprise Unloc.

Unloc’s mission is to empower young people to be innovative changemakers, delivering programmes in FE colleges across the UK on student voice, student leadership, entrepreneurship and career pathways. As part of Unloc’s National Student Governor Training Programme, student governors heard from a range of inspiring speakers as well as taking part in a range of workshops including on the Nolan Principles in action, understanding formal meetings, presenting & persuasive speaking and leadership skills.

At the AoC conference the next day, the 49 elected student governors from over 40 colleges contributed as delegates, attending all the plenaries and many of the breakout sessions on offer. They took part in discussions on Youth Social Action, English and maths, T Levels, mental health and college funding amongst other issues and they asked probing and pertinent questions which helped to focus attention on the student perspective. 

I was lucky enough to be part of the team working with these students and all my expectations for this pilot were exceeded, in terms of both the quality and the depth of their commitment and engagement. The colleges that were represented can be truly proud of their students’ contribution.

The Association of Colleges wants to help college students develop their voice and to ensure that it is heard in colleges and beyond and can helps to shape our work at all levels from the corporation to the classroom. We want to work with partners including Unloc to encourage a culture of genuine student involvement at all levels in our sector and more widely in society. That is why we support votes for 16-year olds and why we have developed a Charter for Student Engagement which colleges can sign up to. 

Next year, Unloc and the Association of Colleges plan to work together to double the number of student governors attending, so if your college wasn’t represented this year make sure you book a place for 2020. We hope to build on this year’s success by designing sessions and themes for Day 1 which reflect student concerns, getting key issues discussed by college students in advance of the conference and supporting more follow-up work afterwards. Engaging students in key educational debates should be a continuous process not just an intense two-day activity once a year. 

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There is no doubt that student involvement at AoC conference enriched and enhanced our discussions. Nothing was lost and much was gained. The benefits of student engagement at this level are clear and there can be no turning back now.

Eddie Playfair – Senior Policy Manager AoC

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