From education to employment

The Foundation – what does sector owned really mean?

I keep emphasising that the Education and Training Foundation is sector owned and we want to meet the sector needs. Is this genuine or are we paying lip service to this mantra? Of course it might not be perfect, but we have most definitely designed the system and are building the processes to make this achievable.

Formal. We have a formal governance structure with the Company owners being the AoC, AELP and AETO, who also nominate seven of the 12 Board Directors, made up of Principals, CEOs/MDs and Heads of providers, plus a leaner and a practitioner. So providers easily have the majority vote on the Board.

Expert panels. We are setting up four of these panels covering each of our core areas of activity. These will again predominately be made up of leaders and practitioners from the sector. They will have a formal and vital role with the Foundation in defining the strategic plan, the delivery plan and reviewing the outcomes and impacts from programmes. We have to make sure these panels are genuinely empowered to guide the Foundation. Although the Board has got to retain the final decisions on strategy and programmes, I see these panels as very much part of the decision making loop. If this approach doesn’t work we will have missed a real opportunity, so I will be advising my relief to make sure they are really effective, otherwise I’ll be coming back to haunt him!

Wider engagement. It is also important that there are processes in place to ensure that the Foundation can engage with, and listen to, the many stakeholders and sector bodies who want and must have a voice; the collective leadership concept. This will require regular interactions with individuals, leaders, sector membership bodes, Unions and other sector organisations, including using some existing sector groups or forming new ones. So, for example, we are planning to retain the concept of the steering group, albeit renamed and with a wider remit, and will also be looking at other groups as a way of wider consultation on particular elements of our business.

Specific consultation. In many instances we will aim to engage with the sector before we actually start writing specifications and tenders for significant new programmes of work. For example, following a competition, we have placed a contract with AELP and AoC to find out what providers need to support delivery of apprenticeships. This initial work will form the basis of a larger tender for a programme, which will thus have been informed directly by the sector’s articulation of their requirements. Other examples include the Leadership conversation tender and one on standards. This type of consultation approach should help us engage with practitioners and learners, but if this is not enough we also will have to look at other opportunities.

BIS is an important stakeholder, not least because our funding comes from them, but also because they might want to influence some of our priorities as Government policies are developed. In addition to regular update meetings with BIS, we are, and no doubt will continue to be, part of a number of policy groups, such as FELTAG.

So will it work? Well it’s not without challenges, but if the whole sector gets behind the concept then we can make it a reality, but the Foundation can’t do it by itself. So what might be some of the main challenges?

We all know that the use of the word sector is a bit of a misnomer, as there are many elements, who can have quite different views about priorities. So can we achieve consensus on priorities? Well if we don’t, then we would probably end up with Government dictating what we do. So we have to strive for ‘give and take’ agreement; easier said than done, but even getting such strong cross sector support in setting up the Foundation and our initial operations, proves to me that it is possible.

The calibre of people we are looking for to join our expert panels are all busy. How can we make them see this as a vital contribution that they are willing to invest their time in? It goes back to my point about making sure these panels are genuinely empowered to guide the Foundation.

What happens if government priorities or approaches don’t align with the sectors? Hopefully serious differences will be rare and, if it does occur, we will need to have a senior enough level discussion to find a mutually agreeable position, but hey isn’t that what already happens when required?

I am not naive enough to think this is all going to be plain sailing and indeed I suspect there will need to be considerable flexibility on the approach we take as the processes mature. Equally, I am convinced that, with the backing and support of everyone in the sector, the principles can be made to work.

Peter Davies is interim CEO of the Education and Training Foundation


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