18th December 2015 at 00:00
Pinging the changes

Whither the AoC?

As the Association of Colleges prepares for a new regime after the departure of chief executive Martin Doel, questions are being asked about what shape the FE providers’ body will be in by the autumn.

It may just be the winter blues, but some AoC regional representatives who have spoken to FErret are pessimistic about their survival as the membership dwindles. AoC regions operate different models across the country, of which the East Midlands (Emfec) is among the most sophisticated. Others have commercial activities, while some provide membership support. Of course, Emfec is a combined college/independent training provider membership organisation that also owns an awarding body. Is there potential for a national model here? There are even voices muttering about strong regions having complete independence as the area reviews kick in.

We have been here before, plenty of times, but this time the screws are really on colleges to justify every penny that they spend. And let’s face it, there are a lot of organisations after their pennies – not least the Education and Training Foundation (ETF), which is understood to be considering a bid to take AoC Create – the AoC’s commercial arm – off its hands. After all, ETF’s survival will soon be wholly dependent on colleges.

We all know that it’s a crowded and underfunded world out there, and that something has to give. Well, whatever the future of the AoC, one thing that does look like going, or at least being drastically slimmed down, is the three-day AoC annual conference in Birmingham. Last month, FErret mentioned the fact that port and brandy were no longer provided at the after-gala-dinner drinks reception, after costs were trimmed back. Next year, if the messages being picked up are to be believed, the whole conference will last for two days (rather than the usual three) – and that’s at the most.

Staff banned from excessive email usage

It’s one thing to ban iPhones from the class (the jury is still out on whether or not this leads to less disruption), but to ban staff from emailing each other? That is beyond the pale. However, that is precisely what has happened in one East of England college. The summons from senior management

(by email) was swift: “Tomorrow, you will convene at the lecture theatre to be spoken to by our principal.”

One member of staff told FErret: “We spent the morning speculating on possible disasters that the principal would unveil.”

Off they all trooped to the lecture theatre, sitting as close to the exits as possible. But it was not bad news and the college was in a robust position, insisted the principal – “striking fear into most hearts as she spoke”, as FErret’s spy put it.

What the principal wanted to talk about was a staff survey, which suggested that poor communication left staff “ill-informed about change, concepts, policies, etc”. Students had negative views of the college, staff were told, as there were too few good-quality team meetings, and teachers didn’t mark and return work in a timely fashion. “This bemused my colleague, who had taken 300 assessments home with her that weekend,” said the source.

“Apparently,” the insider continued, “we use email far too much and it has to stop!” From now on, staff were told, 21st-century communications were out, to be replaced with conversations by phone or even (gulp) face-to-face. Any communication by email would be monitored by management – and any abusers face being reprimanded.

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