The latest from BIS on college governance

Joanna Forbes

BIS has this week published a document entitled ‘College Governance: A Guide’.  On seeing the title I assumed that the document would contain advice to college governors on matters of good governance; but, instead, the document is a whistle-stop tour of legislation and regulation as it applies to the FE sector.

The guide states that it is solely aimed at FE colleges regulated by BIS (and not sixth form colleges), but it contains some information which is relevant only to private providers, including a detailed guide to applying to incorporate as a further education corporation. 

The first two sections of the document contain (very basic) legal information about what FE colleges are and what they provide.  Section three sets out the various bodies to which FE colleges are accountable, including learners, employers and the local community and government (including the Secretary of State as principal regulator).  The various inspection and audit regimes are summarised and there is some information about the government’s powers of intervention through the FE Commissioner.  Finally, section four contains a brief summary of the power to dissolve/merge, as well as on how to apply to incorporate.  Throughout the document there are links to other guidance and more detailed information.

Some observations:

  • Anyone unfamiliar with the sector may find it difficult to equate the statement in the introduction to the guide that ‘since 2010 the government has reduced regulation on the FE sector’ with the 10 pages in section three summarising the current regulatory regime. 
  • The gradual shift away from grant funding for colleges is clearly spelt out, in addition to the increasing role of local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships in making funding decisions.
  • Considerable emphasis is placed on the perceived need to ensure that learners and employers are able to make informed choices, with reference to the new performance tables to be published from 2016.   Colleges are likely to be required to publish performance data on their websites using a widget similar to that used by universities.
  • The inclusion of information encouraging private providers to incorporate mirrors the moves to encourage private providers in the HE sector.  As far as I am aware this is the first time that the government has explicitly set out the process and criteria for applying to become a further education corporation, and it will be interesting to see whether it prompts a rush of applications to incorporate into what many believe is an already over-crowded college sector. 

The guide is a useful introduction to the regulatory framework for new governors and others working in colleges, but otherwise does not appear to add a great deal to existing material including the (soon-to-be-updated) Code of Governance.

The guide is to be updated annually by BIS. 

Joanna Forbes
Senior Associate Solicitor
Education Team
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