The past month has been an important one for our region with Area Based Reviews well underway. Later this month will see the start of the D2N2 Area Review begin and we approach the beginning of the end of this national campaign to create larger, more resilient FE institutions.
Area Based Reviews have been on the radar nationally in the past few weeks with the FE Commissioner Sir David Collins giving evidence at the Education Select Committee’s meeting about the Post-16 Review of Further Education.
It was interesting to hear Sir David talk about these reviews as being a catalyst for taking further education in a new direction. This notion is one which has been on my mind over the past week or so as I wonder whether in a few years’ time we will really look back on these reviews as a key success in shaping the future of further education in England.
I see so much being regularly achieved by our member colleges across the East Midlands to drive quality improvements and work with financial limitations, that I cannot help but wonder whether the changes we see would have taken shape regardless of whether the Area Reviews had taken place or not.
I think it is all too regularly forgotten that one of the key mergers in our region between Central College Nottingham and New College Nottingham had been devised well in advance of the Post-16 Reviews, and it was their initiative to invite the FE Commissioner to review their proposals and be informed of their plans.
South Leicestershire College and North Warwickshire and Hinckley College have announced a merger following their review, which formalises a successful federation and sharing of resources which has been going on now for more than three years.
Meanwhile Chesterfield College, which provides a crucial service to residents living within the borders of Derbyshire and Sheffield, has confirmed plans to continue collaborative partnerships with colleges and businesses in both counties, which it has already been doing for a long time.
The RNN Group, too, in the north of Nottinghamshire, completed a planned merger at the beginning of this year well before the Area Based Reviews may have recommended a similar – or perhaps a very different – venture. This decision was taken in recognition that the two colleges could reach a wider recruitment area by working together, thereby providing a service to cover Rotherham, Bassetlaw, Sheffield City and the D2N2 region.
I am very proud of our close connections with Local Enterprise Partnerships, local businesses and MPs across the East Midlands. I believe that the decisions our colleges make – not just the large infrastructure-changing decisions – but the daily decisions made to help reduce costs, widen participation and improve delivery are going to be crucial in the future success of the region.
Colleges from across our region have been involved in projects seeking to challenge FE pedagogy, including but not limited to projects in collaboration with the Further Education Trust for Leadership and the Education and Training Foundation. These have offered platforms for new ways of thinking about FE and new ways of working together, and it has been inspiring to see so many FE professionals at all levels get involved.
So I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the colleges we work with on their successes, their resilience, and their persistent efforts to ensure that vocational education in the East Midlands is consistently meeting the needs of learners and local employers. It is thanks to their expertise and commitment to the FE cause that colleges are so valued by local employers.
A few partnerships which spring to mind include Central College Nottingham’s automotive division, EMTEC, Chesterfield College’s close relationship with welding company Lincoln Electric, Derby College training apprentices for global giant Rolls-Royce, and links between department store chain Fenwicks and Leicester College’s Apprentice Training Agency.
I do not think our member colleges across the East Midlands are unique in recognising their own local needs and concerns and finding innovative and collaborative ways to address them. All credit is due to the inspiring leaders behind some of these key decisions and the practitioners at all levels who help to implement them, we well as the regional commissioners and Sir David himself who have helped to implement these changes successfully.
So while the Area Reviews have perhaps been a catalyst in some regions for exploring new ways of modelling FE, I think it is safe to say that in most cases there are also FE professionals tirelessly working day after day to ensure they deliver the best teaching experience possible to their learners, and I am sure they will continue to do so long after the Area Review process has ended.
I look forward to seeing the recommendations put forward from our remaining regional Area Reviews and I am confident that whether they are taken on-board or not, our FE institutions will continue to grow and succeed.