The voice of specialist further education

Purpose and strategic direction

Setting a clear college purpose and direction for your college with your governors, and ensuring everyone involved can articulate this, is an essential first step to ensure effective governance.

This section covers:

  • how to establish a clear role for your college
  • self-assessment and quality improvement
  • understanding Ofsted’s expectations
  • ensuring governors uphold the values and behaviours of public life.

An FE college, not a school or day care

Firstly, it is essential that governors (and all staff) fully understand the distinct nature of a specialist FE college, and the implications of working in FE as opposed to a school or care provider. Governors should familiarise themselves with the FE sector, and then set a clear vision for the specialist college in relation to other provision locally and regionally.

What is the role of your college?

Governors should discuss and agree a clear purpose for the college, and identify what makes it distinctive from other providers such as local schools, adult social care, or supported employment provision. How is it different from the local GFE college?

It is no longer enough to say that the college specialises in learning difficulties and/or disabilities (LDD) generally, since many other FE providers, including mainstream GFE colleges, have large numbers of students with LDD and more complex needs. It is important for governors to clearly define what it is that makes the college different from other providers.  The college could identify that it is a specialist provider in any of the following:

  • a particular condition, impairment, type of need
  • a particular vocational or curriculum area
  • a particular degree or complexity of need
  • a particular approach (e.g. a therapeutic community)
  • a combination of these
  • something else, such as achieving specific outcomes

It is also important to identify evidence that can be used to back up the claim. Are there particular resources, facilities and / or trained staff?

Finally, the governors should be clear about how the college adds value to the wider area. Governors should be able to articulate:

  • how the college offer and curriculum relates to other provision in the area(s) served
  • what, if any, services are offered beyond learning programmes for students on roll, to support the SEND provision in the area(s) served. This could be providing specialist support to other providers or providing outreach services to those in mainstream education.

What does the college want to achieve?

Many organisations set a vision and / or mission to articulate its strategic direction. This is entirely up to you as a provider but governors need to be able to articulate the college’s overall aims and direction.

There should be a focus on a culture of high expectations and aspirations for students, and a shared ambition for positive outcomes and destinations.

Some specialist colleges set challenging ambitions – to be recognised nationally for its expertise for example. Others focus on quality of provision, or on outcomes for students.

Many colleges agree a strapline or vision statement to help set the direction.  Whatever is agreed, the important factor is that governors share the same aims, can articulate the vision, and champion the cause of the college with key stakeholders.

Expectations of inspectors

England: Ofsted expectations

Governors need to be familiar with the FE and Skills Inspection Handbook, and if the college is newly opened, they should know when to expect the first monitoring visit and the specific themes/questions that Ofsted will explore with new providers.

The Inspection Framework notes that governors need to:

“Create strong accountability for, and oversight and assurance of, educational performance to ensure continuous and sustainable improvement”  (EIF para 263)

For more established providers and during a full inspection, Ofsted inspectors will want to discuss college governance, usually including meeting governors, to evaluate whether or not governors have:

  • a clear vision for the college
  • established a culture of continuous improvement
  • knowledge, relevant expertise, and experience, so that they can build on strengths and identify areas for improvement
  • detailed knowledge of the college, its staff, and students
  • a process for working effectively within the college, the curriculum, with the students, and staff
  • knowledge and understanding about the intent, implementation, and impact of the curriculum.

Wales: Estyn expectations

Governors should be familiar with the Guidance Handbook for the inspection of independent specialist colleges and in particular, inspection area 5 on leadership and management.

Where annual monitoring visit recommendations include leadership and management matters, governor involvement may be necessary to demonstrate how recommendations have been met.

During a full inspection, Estyn will usually ask to meet with one or more governors to evaluate the extent to which they:

  • understand and discharge their roles and responsibilities
  • have established and communicated a clear vision and strategic objectives
  • set high expectations for staff, learners and themselves
  • analyse information on learner performance
  • act in accordance with principles of sustainable development
  • sustain high quality or improve weak aspects of provision
  • fulfil statutory obligations and take full account of relevant legislation.

Behaviour and values

College governors should adopt the seven principles of public life which apply to public office holders. These principles are:

  • Selflessness: holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest.
  • Integrity: holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work.
  • Objectivity: holders of public office must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias.
  • Accountability: holders of public office are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this.
  • Openness: holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.
  • Honesty: holders of public office should be truthful.
  • Leadership: holders of public office should exhibit these principles in their own behaviour. They should actively promote and robustly support the principles and be willing to challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs.

Further reading

Specialist colleges are not incorporated colleges and do not have the same legal status as College Corporations (FE and Sixth form colleges).

However there are documents aimed at college corporations that have useful information much of which is still applicable to specialist colleges. Use the links below for advice from government and AoC.

The code of good governance published by the Association of Colleges

See more on governance:

Governance structures

Meetings and self assessment

Recruitment and selection

share this page: