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157 Group to be renamed the Collab Group in ambitious new strategy

Chief executive Ian Pretty says that the organisation is looking to develop joint commercial activity across its member colleges

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Chief executive Ian Pretty says that the organisation is looking to develop joint commercial activity across its member colleges

The 157 Group is to be relaunched as the Collab Group, TES can reveal, as part of a new strategy that will see the organisation focusing on joint commercial activity across its member colleges.

Chief executive Ian Pretty (pictured) also revealed that the group of 32 colleges will now concentrate this joint commercial activity on seven key sectors, and aims to be at the vanguard of developing the Institutes of Technology proposals outlined by the government.

And, after the group’s membership has grown by almost a fifth this year, there is potential for it to expand further. “We are not at our upper limit yet,” Mr Pretty said, but he refused to speculate as to how big the organisation could become.

The new name and logo will be officially unveiled at a launch event on Wednesday. The move comes a decade after the 157 Group was founded in 2006, in response to the Foster review on the future role of FE colleges. In Sir Andrew Foster’s report, paragraph 157 – from which the group took its name – called on principals of large colleges to play a greater role in policymaking.

‘Spirit of collaboration’

The rebranding is being carried out a year after Mr Pretty was appointed. He quickly established a strategic review of how the group operated. Since then, its membership has grown by nearly 20 per cent – from 26 to 32 colleges. The news the group was to change its name was revealed by TES in March.

Mr Pretty told TES that the name change represented the organisation “turning a page and starting a new chapter”.

“Collab is collaboration,” he explained. “If you look at the Urban Dictionary [website], that is the term for collaboration, and collaboration is critical to us. How do we collaborate with industry? How do we collaborate with government? How do we collaborate with each other? That chimes with our vision but it also still chimes with where we were in 2006.”

Pursuing joint commercial activities for members is a key aspect of this collaboration, Mr Pretty added. “To me, it is patently obvious that in a changing environment in terms of revenues, colleges have to more actively diversify their revenues.”

‘Pushing at open doors’

Following the introduction of the apprenticeship levy next year, large employers will want a standardised curriculum across the UK, Mr Pretty said. “If you are doing a construction apprenticeship, they would expect it to be as good in Barnet and Southgate as it is in Hull, as it is in north-east Scotland, as it is in Blackpool and Cornwall... They want to have a single conversation, and my view is that Collab Group offers that opportunity.”

Ian Pryce, principal of Collab Group member Bedford College, said: “With 157 Group, it always took the first few minutes of a meeting to explain what [the name] meant. Collaboration is certainly important. I think it is even more important between colleges and other bodies than between us members.”

Stella Mbubaegbu, principal of Highbury College in Portsmouth, also a Collab member, said that while the commercial opportunities available through the group were beneficial, shared values were more important. “We want to make a difference in our sector, taking a measured and constructive leadership role,” she added.

This is an edited version of a story in the 14 October issue of TES. Subscribers can read the full version here.

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