AREA REVIEWS: DELIVERING EXCELLENCE IN TRANSFORMATION AT HIGH SPEED
CREATED BY: DAVID SYKES, QUALITY EXPERT
Change is often referred to as being the only constant. This is certainly the experience of leadership teams in further education today, as 2015/16 sees the Government’s Area Reviews announced. Of course, change is not a new phenomenon in the FE and skills sector. During the past decade the pace and scale of change has created a situation in which we may be forgiven for feeling we’ve been running just to stand still.
So, what happens when the escalators of transformation are the equivalent of putting post-16 education and training on a bullet train? For a start, it is likely the new Area Reviews will result in a significant change in direction for most providers, and an expectation to return cost savings ‘en route’ in line with government financial spending plans.
No mean feat, but once change starts to happen adaptation is the key to survival. There are many ways to enable both immediate improvement to our offering as well as long-term sustainability. Addressing financial concerns must be a priority. In its outline document published in July 2015, BIS clarified its intentions: that those unable to remain financially viable as independent institutions must seek a solution beyond their gates. While there is an understanding that FE provision must be ready for change to meet its obligations to a diversifying society, the financial processes that underpin the change will be the line between success and failure when the Area Reviews wrap up in March 2017.
As more colleges close or merge, regional teams will need to support each other effectively through the changes. Efficient mapping of estates, revenue, cashflow and curriculum must lie at the heart of this support. On-the-spot analysis and the freedom to ask difficult questions will be necessary to guide strategic decisions. This will help realise the Review vision to ‘enable greater specialisation’ and create ‘genuine centres of expertise’, to support progression onto a high level in professional and technical disciplines.
Students of course must not feel the impact, particularly as many must prepare to have their FE and post-16 provision grants removed next year. In particular, those with special educational needs must not slip off the radar.
This will all impact on the external bodies with which the sector has relationships: employers, local enterprise partnerships, skills bodies, school commissioners and councils. The management of these relationships should be carefully handled.
Regardless of the specific challenges, with the ultimate goal of the Reviews being to ensure that further education provides people with work and increases productivity and economic growth in the UK, this must be our guiding principle to create better outcomes for students now and in the future.