Lead on, action man

John Bingham, the newly announced chair of the Association of Colleges (page 3), came to the fore recently by being the man credited with pulling the plug on its loss-making workforce development arm.

With the AoC undergoing a review of its role, it certainly needs a chair who can demonstrate that he can lead, and the end of the workforce development operation is likely to be the first of many big changes.

He has accepted the post with a promise to travel around the country and listen to what the association's members really want. Now, we've heard this one before. Just as new MPs pledge their loyalty to the Queen, even if they don't mean it, so new chairs pledge their determination to listen to the colleges they will serve. Mr Bingham, though, has shown he is a man of action and he deserves more than the benefit of the doubt when he says he will do something.

Strong leadership will be vital to the AoC if it is to be seen as a positive and forward-looking organisation which can set the agenda for further education. This is particularly important as the 157 Group of larger colleges - which appears to have the support of ministers - starts to build its own power base.

Of course, until the 157 Group changes its name (derived from the 2005 Foster review of FE), few people outside the great and the good will understand what it is, let alone get excited about it, and it is notable that some of the best colleges are too small to be admitted to its private circle.

The AoC remains the only organisation capable of representing the whole of the college system in England and Wales. If the interests of students are to come first, the 157 Group will make sure its activities are supportive of the AoC and not a threat.

This will no doubt be on Mr Bingham's mind. We wish him luck.

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