Colleges Inquiry – final report published

14 November 2011

If colleges in England are to do ‘more with less’ then the Government needs to cut ‘red-tape’ and all colleges need to do more to engage with and respond to learners and their local communities. This is the headline finding of the independent Commission on Colleges in their Communities which published its final report – A Dynamic Nucleus: Colleges at the heart of local communities – at the Association of Colleges Annual Conference in Birmingham on 15 November 2011.

The Commission, which has been supported by NIACE, the Association of Colleges and the 157 Group, is also calling for a new generation of entrepreneurial leaders, working closely with local employers, within a new community curriculum.

In his speech at the AoC Conference on Tuesday, Skills Minister, John Hayes MP, said:

“First, it’s clear that you must have the ability to innovate to meet new demands.”

“Margaret Sharp and her colleagues have stressed the need for an innovative code. And I thank Margaret for her presentation this morning and for the work she has led in producing the Colleges in the Communities report. I think we’re only just beginning to understand quite how important this work and its follow-up will be.”

“So I will ask my officials to organise with the AoC a series of workshops to put into practice Margaret’s proposals.”

Since the Commission started its Inquiry in January 2011, it has found that while many colleges are already firmly embedded in their communities they still have to negotiate an unduly complex funding regime. They see partnerships as an important way of embedding colleges in their communities, but recognise that these can be expensive in terms of resources and management time. However, local decision-making is crucial and engagement that involves employers, learners and the wider community in helping make these decisions and develop the college curriculum is the most effective.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford, the Chair of the Commission, said:

“Colleges can not only help people into jobs through skills training, but, by being proactive in their local communities, they can also harness the energy of those communities towards positive outcomes which in turn promote health, happiness and social cohesion. The key is for colleges to work in partnership, whether with local business, charities, local authorities or public sector organisations. While colleges may be the catalyst for change – hence our term ‘the dynamic nucleus’ – we see the way forward as essentially ‘a shared agenda’.”

“In our interim report we called for a renewed and revitalised further education system with colleges at its heart. We argued that if government could give greater flexibility to the over-rigorous funding regime and relax other ‘red tape’, then colleges could and would deliver more in terms of community leadership. But they cannot do this alone. It requires more co-investment by individuals and employers; better information for the public and greater local accountability. We have received a great deal of support for this shared agenda of reform, with colleges, their support bodies, and local and central government stepping up to the plate. It is crucial that, together, we get this right.”

Mark Ravenhall, Director of Policy and Impact at NIACE, said:

“This report is good news for the millions of adults who learn new skills at their local college. The very best colleges are already at the heart of their local communities. They are supporting social cohesion, creating aspirations and providing local individuals with the chance to advance their social and personal ambitions. Most adults learn at their local colleges. A new curriculum, driven by learners and employers is crucial to build on these successes.”

Joy Mercer, AoC Director of Education Policy, said:

“AoC has worked very closely with NIACE and the 157 Group to support this important inquiry. It is a time for change for Colleges and the recommendations will, if implemented, recognise the pivotal role that Colleges play at the centre of their communities. AoC believes that the funding freedoms advocated in the report will allow Colleges to really respond to need; the accountability outwards to employers, community groups and individuals and the focus on leaders and managers with the right skills to work towards the social and economic well being of their communities are vital.”

“We are encouraged by Government’s desire to reduce regulation and trust Colleges. This report capitalises on this mood. It recognises how Colleges can be the glue and the dynamo for their communities in a partnership that works.”

Lynne Sedgmore CBE, Executive Director of the 157 Group, said:

“We are pleased to have supported this incisive independent report into colleges in their communities. It calls for a new generation of entrepreneurial leaders, stronger partnerships with employers, a more flexible, innovative curriculum, stronger relationships with local enterprise partnerships and more collaborative working in localities. Many colleges are already highly effective as a dynamic nucleus at the heart of their communities yet we acknowledge there is always room for improvement. Colleges are keen to take on the challenge to innovate even more powerfully and to reposition themselves as effective and influential hubs in their locality.”