Government commits to build stronger relationships with colleges

Proposals to strengthen relationships with colleges and promote better planning to make sure communities get the skills they need have been published today (15 July) by the Department for Education.

The bold new strategic vision for the college sector follows Dame Mary Ney’s Independent Review, which was initiated after Hadlow and West Kent & Ashford Colleges were placed in education administration in 2019. The review, which was completed in October and is being published today, looked at how the government monitors colleges’ finances and financial management. This included examining the work of the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) and the Further Education Commissioner’s team.

The Government response sets out a number of actions following the report’s recommendations, including:

  • Strengthened alignment between the Further Education Commissioner and ESFA
  • A regular strategic dialogue led by the ESFA and Further Education Commissioner’s team with all college boards around priorities, starting from September
  • New whistle-blowing requirements for colleges, including publication of policies on college websites
  • A review of governance guidance to strengthen transparency
  • A new College Collaboration Fund round

Further changes will be announced as part of the FE White Paper after the summer.

Gillian Keegan, Apprenticeships and Skills Minister said:

Now more than ever, it’s vital that colleges ensure students gain the skills they need to progress and meet the needs of businesses and their local communities.

I welcome this independent review by Dame Mary Ney and her call for a clear vision for the sector. We have started to put in place changes that address many of the recommendations in the report, including strengthening oversight of the financial health of the sector and increasing the alignment between the Education and Skills Funding Agency and the FE Commissioner.

I’ve seen first-hand the exceptional work done by colleges across the country, and know what a key role they will play to support our economic recovery. I look forward to working with them and the wider sector to achieve a new vision for FE.

Dame Mary Ney, author of the review said:

I was pleased to undertake the review. FE colleges play a vital role in building local economic prosperity and in ensuring students develop to their full potential.

The overarching finding from my review was a need to shift to promoting the strategic role of the sector and to nurturing and supporting all colleges on an individual basis thus reducing the risk of financial problems recurring.

I am encouraged that the recommendations from the review are now being taken forward by the department, as part of the development of an ambitious strategy for sector. I wish all in the sector well in their endeavours.

The publication of the review, and the Government’s response, follows the Education Secretary’s FE speech where he pledged to publish a White Paper that will set out our plans to build a world-class, German-style further education system in Britain, which will strive toward high quality qualifications based on employer-led standards. It also follows the significant investment announced by the Chancellor to support young people’s employment prospects – which includes a new ‘kickstart’ scheme to create work placements for young people on Universal Credit, £111 million investment to triple the number of traineeships available across England, supporting employers to create more apprenticeships opportunities, new investment to support an additional quarter of a million people with careers advice, and more.

These reforms build on work already underway to transform technical and vocational education in this country, including the introduction of new T Levels from September, working with employers to create more high quality apprenticeship opportunities and establishing a network of Institutes of Technology, backed by up to £290 million.

This is alongside the new measures announced this week to mark the next step in establishing a system of Higher Technical Education where students and employers can have confidence in high-quality courses that provide the skills they need to succeed.

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