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FE reforms have a 'profound effect' on college governance, report claims

Changes in further education policy and funding have had a “profound effect” on college governance over the last four years, according to a new report.

A government-led review into the impact of its reforms, published today, says most governing bodies have responded “positively” to the changes introduced since 2010.

Policies designed to drive up standards, coupled with cuts in public funding, have drawn strong colleges towards a culture of “institutional responsibility”, it says.

“These changes have had a profound effect on governance, with clerks reporting the appointment of many governors new to their role and to the FE sector,” it adds.

Governance in colleges where finances are sound and quality is strong has changed as a result, the report says.

In those colleges, strategy is now reviewed at regular points throughout the year and governors are making changes with better information.

Reductions in traditional sources of funding have meant that governors had to make “difficult decisions” about priorities, it says.

In many cases, governors have “robustly debated” their college’s mission and purpose, and have redefined their college’s priorities based on the needs of their community and local employers.

The report concludes that there is now a “clear recognition” among governors that they are expected to challenge the performance of colleges, both to drive improvements in educational standards and to encourage more innovative thinking. Many governing bodies are now regularly reviewing their membership to make sure that they have the right mix of skills and experience.

Last year the FE commissioner, Dr David Collins, said most colleges in financial trouble were not being properly held to account by their governing bodies because their members lacked the financial expertise to oversee complex multi-million pound organisations.

David Walker, director of governance for the Association of Colleges (AoC), said: “This review of further education college governance recognises that colleges have used their independence to meet the challenges they face.

"College governors act as an oversight on the management of the college, including their finances, and this review gives a fair assessment of the progress they have made since 2011.”

Related stories:

Government urges FE sector to 'excel' by tackling poor teaching and governance – 2 July, 2014

Governors 'lack expertise' to deal with colleges in financial trouble, warns FE commissioner – 16 June, 2014

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