18th March 2016 at 00:00
A 157 break ... at last

New paragraph in history

Even in a sector littered with acronyms and jargon, naming an organisation after the number of a paragraph in a government report is excruciatingly geeky. But ever since its inception in 2006, the 157 Group has been lumbered with its God-awful moniker thanks to Sir Andrew Foster’s report on the future of FE colleges in which he argued that the principals of large, successful colleges should play a greater role in policymaking. And so, from paragraph 157, the (wait for it) 157 Group was born.

Since taking over as chief executive last year, Ian Pretty has not been afraid of making some major changes. He’d already embarked on a wholesale strategic review before even hanging up his coat. Since then, he has moved to expand the group to 32 members, bring in corporate members such as Pearson and OCR, and focus on proactively doing ministers’ bidding rather than trying to change their minds.

But the most radical change is yet to come. Yes, FErret gathers that the group’s members have agreed to change the organisation’s name. The plan is to hire some branding experts, with a view to having the group’s new name ready for sign-off in September and a formal launch in October.

FErret, of course, is always available for weddings, bar mitzvahs, funerals and rebranding exercises. But here’s one tip for free: make sure, at any costs, the word “vision” is nowhere to be seen.

Who wants to be an IoT?

All hail the institutes of technology (or IoTs, to those in the know). According to the government, these palaces of technical excellence are the key to finding the next generation of science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) specialists that the country is crying out for. Just don’t look too closely or ask for any details because, well, there aren’t any.

But that certainly hasn’t deterred plucky providers from throwing their hats into the ring. Indeed, FErret can reveal that no fewer than 25 parties have contacted the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Bis) to express their interest in creating an IoT.

“We have talked to a wide range of stakeholders about the IoT programme,” a Bis spokesman explained, while tickling FErret’s belly.

“They include FE colleges, universities and representative bodies such as the Association of Colleges, the 157 Group and GTA (Group Training Associations) England. In addition to this, around 25 organisations, or groups of organisations, have contacted Bis directly to indicate their interest in the programme. Based on these discussions, we will shortly start a more detailed process of stakeholder engagement.”

So what do we actually know about IoTs? According to the latest area review guidance, they are “not intended to be just a rebadging of existing provision – they will have own their own independent identity and governance and will be nationally branded and focus on achieving a step-change in provision of higher-level Stem skills”.

OK, OK. Whoop-de-doo! But what does it all mean, Nick? The problem is that no one really knows. But the strong interest expressed so far will be music to Mr Boles’ ears. Let’s just hope that, by the time it’s been decided exactly what these IoTs will look like in the flesh, those 25 prospective pioneers haven’t quietly shuffled off into the crowd.

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