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Geoff Russell’s AoC annual conference address in full

Thank you and may I say how delighted I am to be with you today at my third AoC conference.

This job carries significant responsibility but even greater privilege, which is a good thing as it became clear it would be more a marathon than the sprint I expected – and I promise that is the first and last sporting metaphor I will deploy ahead of hearing from Lord Coe and some splendid athletes.

But I must point out that we have, of course, already won medals – at WorldSkills London 2011 where Team UK won 5 gold, 2 silver and 6 bronze medals – our best ever results and achieved at the biggest and best skills event the world has ever seen. I for one think that deserves a round of applause for both the competitors and the organisers.

But those achievements are testament not only to the skill and dedication of all those young people, but also are testament to the work you and thousands of others do, day-in, day-out improving chances for individuals and businesses and communities – and so those medals really belong to the entire FE sector and you should all be proud.

And that’s all I have to say really.

I have spoken before about the Agency getting out of your way – and I meant it, to the extent that I am not going to stand up here and deliver another 20 minute sermon – much to your relief, I am sure.

Rather, I thought we could use the opportunity that the biggest annual gathering of college folk provides to hear and perhaps debate a little your hopes and worries about the future.

To get us started, let me set the scene. What I have described to my people as the “new” Skills Funding Agency has in recent months shrunk and reinvented itself to ensure that all of its functions and people are geared simply to facilitate the effective operation of something else that is new. That something is: the New FE freedoms; the New FE outcome focus; the New FE accountabilities and the New FE business models – in short; the New FE Sector.

These changes have already begun, but there are still many choices to make. So I think it’s a good time to discuss the challenges and the opportunities that the New FE offers.

To get the ball rolling, I offer you 4 predictions for New FE that you may or may not agree with. I am interested in your views of the implications:

1. In the New FE

The market will be freed of regulation, bureaucracy and security,

2. In the New FE

Success will be achieving outcomes for customers, not targets for the state

3. In the New FE

Colleges will be more like independent learning providers; independent learning providers will be more like colleges

4. In the New FE

Colleges will compete across the entire spectrum of education markets domestically and internationally and will look very little like they do today

I’d like to hear what you think about these predictions. I would make a plea that we not get bogged down in detail but rather consider strategy and direction of travel.

So no speech.

Let’s have a debate…

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