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Members with portfolios

The Association of Colleges will have a president and a new focus on policy development if reforms approved by the board are agreed at its annual conference next month.

John Bingham, AoC board chairman, said a restructured board - with members given specific portfolios to represent different types of college - would help to create a more proactive organisation.

The AoC has been criticised in some quarters - including Whitehall - for being too reactive and has admitted it needs to be more on the "front foot" in influencing Government policy.

While Mr Bingham does not believe the AoC's reputation for "whingeing" is always deserved, he admitted it had suffered an image problem.

The role of the new president, who will be elected to serve for a one-year term, will be to act as the public face of the organisation and get its message across.

Specialist portfolios for board members are still to be finalised, but are likely to reflect the different types of college - including specialist institutions for students with disabilities, sixth-form colleges and larger colleges in big cities.

There is likely to be a maximum of 24 board members - more than the 15 recommended by the recent review of the AoC, but the right number to make sure interest groups within FE are not left out, said Mr Bingham.

He also said the "door is not closed" to the idea that otherproviders - such as private trainingcompanies - could become members of the AoC at some time in the future, although he stressed that there are presently no plans for this.

The board has agreed to most of the points in the review - which was carried out by Helen Gilchrist, former principal of Bury College, and George Bright, former principal of Wiltshire College - including the creation of a long-term strategy group with the assistance of Conor Ryan, who advised former prime minister Tony Blair and former education secretary David Blunkett.

The appointment of a new chief executive for the AoC - following the departure of John Brennan, who held the position for four years - has been postponed after an initial trawl of possible candidates failed to fill the post.

Those considered for the job included Geoff Hall, principal of New College Nottingham and Steven Broomhead, chief executive of the Northwest Regional Development Agency.

Uncertainty over the nature of the president's role is believed to have been a sticking point for some potential candidates. It is not known whether some will reapply or be reconsidered once this issue and others raised by the review have been clarified.

The AoC has been the dominant voice of colleges, but recently the 157 Group of larger institutions has enjoyed the attention of ministers.

But the 157 Group insisted it intends to work with the AoC, rather than in competition. Ioan Morgan, 157's former chairman, is a member of the AoC's new strategy group.

Ferret, page 4.

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