From education to employment

We have so much to celebrate – Further Education Commissioner: annual report 2020 to 2021

Shelagh Legrave, CBE, FE Commissioner

This is my first annual report as FE Commissioner, having been appointed to the role on 1 October 2021. We have had 3 FE Commissioners over the last year with Sir Richard Atkins retiring in March and Frances Wadsworth covering as interim FE Commissioner from April until the end of September.

Prior to joining the Department for Education (DfE), I was Chief Executive of Chichester College Group for some years and gained a wide range of practitioner knowledge across that time, including of both mergers and opening a new college.

I know that at the heart of every college is the desire to provide an outstanding student experience and I
also know that it has been a very tough 18 months. During this time, leaders in further education have shown agility, flexibility, and braveness in enabling students to achieve their qualifications, despite uncertainty and amidst huge financial pressures, and there is no doubt that this has been recognised in the DfE and by increased funding from the Treasury.

My team of 6 Deputy FE Commissioners and 12 Advisers have carried out a range of visits to colleges between August 2020 and July 2021, both in person and virtually, and this report provides details of these visits. You will also find further information on our team of National Leaders of Further Education (NLFEs), National Leaders of Governance (NLGs) and the Principals’ Reference Group (PRG). There is also information on our Active Support offer which includes an update on the Curriculum Efficiency and Financial Sustainability (CEFS) pilot.

The role of the FE Commissioner has broadened over the last year with the focus shifting to encompass recommendations made in the Dame Mary Ney report on the independent review of college financial oversight. Dame Mary’s conclusions included that the agencies supporting colleges in intervention could work more effectively together, and that some colleges spent too much time in intervention.

To respond to this, whilst the main components of the FE Commissioner role remain the same, there will be a greater emphasis on support for all colleges, not just those in intervention, within the context of the Education and Skills Funding Agency’s (ESFA) overall case management approach.

The FE White Paper Funding and Accountability consultation states that ‘the FE Commissioner should enhance its existing leadership role, with a renewed focus on driving improvement and championing excellence’.

This includes:

  • supporting colleges to improve if a college is underperforming on the skills measure
  • supporting colleges in intervention in improving their performance against meeting
  • local skills needs
  • being a source of significant expertise and practitioner insight and continuing to be the primary agent for improvement across the entire sector

The 4 main components of the FE Commissioner role, therefore, are:

  1. leading college support and intervention
  2. sharing best practice across the sector
  3. working with system leaders to bring FE practitioner expertise into government
  4. overseeing local improvement and ensuring local skills needs are met

For me personally, I see my primary responsibility as championing the FE sector within DfE, a sector I am very proud to work in and passionate about how we change lives through learning.

The College Collaboration Fund (CCF) has been really successful in enabling colleges to work together more collaboratively on quality improvement and to share good practice. The second round of CCF is now well underway and resources will be added to the GOV.UK page as they become available. There are already some great resources developed from the first round of projects available, covering a wide range of areas from mental health and wellbeing to remote education and staff development. DfE has also just published an insight report on how CCF has been used to develop digital curriculum content, which has top tips and case studies, so please do take a look.

We have so much to celebrate – skilling over 650,000 young people annually and preparing them for progression to employment or university, working with thousands of employers on work experience or through apprenticeships and supporting 1 million adults to reskill, and all with the challenges and limitations which Covid-19 has imposed. I look forward to working with all of you on sharing good practice, learning from each other, and promoting further education. The more open we are with each other, the stronger we will be together.

Shelagh Legrave CBE, FE Commissioner

Annual report of the Further Education Commissioner: 1 August 2020 to 31 July 2021


The Further Education Commissioner reports on:

  • her activity between 1 August 2020 and 31 July 2021
  • the state of the further education college sector

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