When we see the annual summer education headlines on television and in newspapers – the GCSE exam results, back to school and university, etc – we can be tempted to make the mistake of forgetting the ongoing work of the independent sector, which works with employers, apprentices and trainees all year round. This is something we should correct.
Independent training providers are vital to the nation’s success and make up a significant part of this country’s skills provision and training, but often they only make the press when something goes wrong – and often this is a breakdown of governance. Therefore, good governance is key to achieving success, improving reputation and safeguarding the longevity of the sector.
In the world of corporate governance, achieving good governance is not a new pursuit, and debates as to what it looks like have been raging for many years; when it fails it can have dire effects on a company. So, like all essentially contested concepts, what we know and understand by the term “good governance” may never be fully understood, but it is now time to take that debate into the independent training sector.
Clear principles 'are vital'
Just because there is debate, that doesn’t mean we cannot agree on clear principles, nor does it mean we shouldn’t seek to create a narrative of what good governance looks like within a specific and unique legal structure. Governance can often be the least understood and least transparent parts of the independent training sector. Whilst most providers of skills and training recognise the importance of governance, creating and maintaining a structure of good governance is no easy feat. Nor is correcting bad governance practices that may have been allowed to develop within a provider.
Good governance is fundamentally important to the very trainees and learners that ITPs serve. A strong code of governance offers clarity to both apprentices and partner employers on what they can expect from their provision. It can create a level of accountability for ITPs, generating confidence that apprentices, trainees and learners are acquiring the skills they need to thrive, and that employers are able to strengthen their partnerships with providers with an understanding of what each can expect from the other, while providing government funders and taxpayers with assurance that their money is well spent.
Since April, my colleague Karen Adriaanse and I have been working with the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, supported by the Further Education Trust for Leadership (FETL), to research what good governance is and develop a new bespoke code of governance that we believe independent learning providers should adopt. We believe the code, which is based on seven themes of governance and underpinned by the Nolan principles, offers an opportunity for ITPs to develop and in some cases strengthen their governance structures.
No easy feat
Of course, meeting these challenges in a time of change is no easy feat. As government promotes new reforms and pursues changing agendas, the sector and ITPs must be responsive to them. This requires leadership from the ITPs themselves. Accordingly, the code offers a draft framework which AELP believe has wide application within the sector. In writing the code, we consulted widely throughout the sector and with partners to ensure that it is applicable and responsive to the needs of ITPs of varying sizes and needs across the UK.
Good governance cannot be pursued by some and not by others. If ITPs are able to adopt a code of governance, freeing up leaders and providers to pursue their core objectives, the sector as a whole will be so much the better for it.
Sue Pember is director of policy and external relationships at adult learning body Holex
A webinar on the new code, supported by FETL, takes place on Friday 14 September at 12.30pm.Details on how to register can be found here: https://fetlwebinar.co.uk/