Commission: Put legal duty on colleges to collaborate

The Independent Commission on the College of the Future sets out six areas of further education reform in England

Kate Parker

FE reform: put legal duty on colleges to collaborate

There should be a legal duty on all colleges to collaborate and establish networks with others, the Independent Commission on the College of the Future has said today. 

In a new report published today that focuses on further education reform in England, the commission said that the legal duty on colleges, matched by a duty on all other post-16 education providers, would force them to collaborate in the interests of students, communities and the economy.  

The report also calls for a cross-department ministerial taskforce to be formed that would oversee a 10-year education and skills strategy. It also says lifelong learning has to be accessible and financially viable to all to support a statutory right to lifelong learning. 

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The commission asks for colleges to be funded to deliver specialised and targeted business support and create “employer hubs” in key sectors, for college investment to be delivered through three-year grant settlements and for the regulation, accountability and funding system to be streamlined.

The report comes weeks after the commission published a four-nation report with 11 recommendations for the future of further education. 

Amanda Melton, principal and chief executive of Nelson and Colne College Group and member of the commission, said that the government had to invest in colleges as essential public assets. 

She said: “The anticipated FE White Paper will be a vehicle to drive the fundamental systems change needed. But colleges should take a lead role in delivering the transformation required, in the context of the vision for the future and outlined government reforms. 

“This report is a rallying call for colleges. I know we share a collective ambition for the expanded role colleges can and must play in our society and economy. This will require real cultural shifts within the college sector to achieve the commission’s vision for a collaborative college sector for the future. Colleges will then successfully adopt their lead role as linchpin of a coherent, connected education and skills system that delivers for our communities and economy.”

Nugatory competition

The report calls for the government to develop a “coherent post-16 education and skills strategy” and to redress “nugatory competition” in the system. 

However, Jane Hickie, the managing director of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers said that “the statute book has no place” in trying to restrict learner choice.

She said: “A great deal of collaboration already goes on at local level and long may it continue. What the FE and skills system must be about is employer and learner choice and the statute book has no place in trying to restrict that choice. University choices aren’t restricted and nearly all parents have a choice over schools within their catchment areas. Therefore why should local employers and learners be treated any differently for FE and skills?

“We know why the report refers to ‘nugatory competition’ but the meaning of nugatory is worthless or unimportant. Policymakers should remember however that independent training providers don’t receive grant funding and only get paid for what they deliver, and they deliver what their employers and learners believe is the best provision for them locally.  

“There are 10 years of successive government and independent surveys that show they are extremely happy with the customised service they are receiving. It would be a very backward step if the FE White Paper and legislation started to interfere in the choices that employers and learners can make.”

Drive forward long-term change

David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said that with the right investment, “colleges can do much more for people, places and productivity”.

He said: “This report is a must-read for everyone involved in post-16 education and training. The commission has worked so hard to reach a consensus with employers, government, students and colleges about the system needed to get the most out of colleges over the coming years. 

“Colleges make an enormous impact now, but with the recommendations in this report implemented, and with the right investment, they can do so much more for people, places and productivity.”

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said that the DfE would work closely with colleges to drive forward long-term change. He said: “Up and down the country, our colleges have been doing excellent work making sure individuals, communities and businesses continue to have the skills they need to thrive.

“Through our ambitious White Paper we will build on this, putting employers at the heart of our plans and working closely with colleges to drive forward the long-term change we need to unleash potential everywhere and that will support our economy to recover and grow.

“I very much welcome the positive engagement we have had with the sector so far and I am looking forward to working with them as our aspirations for further education come to fruition.” 

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Kate Parker

Kate Parker is a schools and colleges content producer.

Find me on Twitter @KateParkerTes

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