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Post-Brexit-vote political change means it's everything to play for, says new Association of Colleges boss

David Hughes tells TES that we now have an opportunity to think about how the FE system works

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David Hughes tells TES that we now have an opportunity to think about how the FE system works

The recent political changes could leave colleges in a better place, according to the new chief executive of the Association of Colleges.

Speaking on his first day in post, David Hughes told TES he was “quite excited” about the coming months. “It does feel like lots of things have changed and there is a lot more to play for than there was six months ago. There is a new government, Brexit, a new Department for Education, a new secretary of state and minister for skills,” he said.

“Lots of policy which looked really rigid and certain now looks a bit looser and a bit more likely to be malleable. Because there are lots of new players, there is a chance to think a bit more about how the system works, rather than just looking at bits of the landscape.” The position of further education and colleges should open up and should improve, he explained. 

There has been too much talk about “the glass being half-empty”, he added, arguing that there is a need for more optimism. “Of course things are tough, but we still have fantastic colleges doing fantastic stuff, helping people learn and helping people improve their life changes,” Mr Hughes said.

'Huge, glaring priorities'

The AoC announced Mr Hughes’ appointment in May. Prior to taking on his role with the AoC, he was chief executive of the Learning and Work Institute, having joined the organisation’s predecessor organisation, Niace, in 2011.

Before that he spent 11 years in the further education sector, working for the Learning and Skills Council and the Skills Funding Agency. He has also worked in the voluntary sector. In his first full interview following his appointment, he told TES he was confident that FE colleges had a bright future.

In the coming weeks, his focus will be on listening to those in the college sector, he said. “I don’t want to fall into the trap of thinking I know it all. The specific needs of colleges and the specific needs of young people and older learners in colleges – I just need to be open to that.”

There are also “huge, glaring priorities” to focus on, said Mr Hughes – including the spending review in the autum, as well as devolution and the GCSE resits issue.

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