As a new governor for The Berkshire College of Agriculture I am having to learn a whole new vocabulary of acronyms…FE (further education) and HE (higher education) , SFA (skills funding agency), Ofstead (office for standards in education), STEM (Science, technology, engineering and Maths) , QRB (quality review board) …in fact in the run up to an Ofstead inspection (any day now) I have just received a list of 543 acronyms used in the every day life of our college. Abbreviations Acronyms MAY 2015
What I am learning is not that education loves to abbreviate but that the complexity around further education is staggering and the responsibilities of governance immense.
Before becoming a governor of what I thought was a sleepy rather quaint Land Based college on a beautiful Georgian estate on the outskirts of Maidenhead, I had imagined the role of governor in such a middle class area was all about showing up 4 times a year, judging a flower show and being no more than a back seat advisor. How mistaken I was!
This extraordinary college has often been described to me as the last chance saloon for a teenager who finds main stream education un-inspiring. Here at BCA at the age of 16 you can study to be a farmer, a gardener, a zoo keeper, a beautician, a car mechanic, a film director, a stable manager and much more beside.
Approaching the college down its grade 1 listed lime tree avenue towards the stately magnificence of Hall Place you might be mistaken on thinking that this was a private school rather than a state school. On further investigation of the facilities you might, as I was, be astounded at the quality of facilities the class room technology, the breadth of campus and the passion of staff.
However looks can be deceiving as the college is currently under review by Ofstead as “needs improvement” or “grade 3″. This might mean little to the un initiated but, as I have now learnt, to the staff of BCA this is serious. “Grade 3″ means seriously under performing in the key purpose of the college; namely the education, preparation and welfare of the 1500 learners in our care.
Before I became a governor I had only been aware of the “dreaded Ofstead inspection” through parents or teachers who had experienced a visit. The stress of 4 days of interviews, the stress of a snap shot approach to understanding, the stress of a detailed examination into every area, every level and a forensic approach to uncover the facts. The apocryphal stories of it all being down to the nice or nasty inspector etc., However it is only now as BCA approaches its inspection that I am beginning to understand the true very effective purpose of Ofstead…and surprisingly I like what I see!
So why does the inspection outcome matter so much? Well the difference between grade 3, grade 2 and the holy of holy’s grade 1 or “Outstanding” is the difference (in football language) between being Sunday league football and the Premiership.
As a governor who is accountable for ensuring that the college is fulfilling its purpose:
” delivering high quality education that gives our students the knowledge, skills and experience to be successful in their chosen career”
it is all about overseeing a vision, culture and working practices that consistently deliver excellent value to the tax payer. Success is seeing a cohort of leavers prepared and enabled to be able to support themselves with out state intervention. Learners who, like me, failed in the classroom of academia but are able to find their vocation and purpose in areas with equal value to society. It is without question that many of BCA leavers armed with qualifications in hair dressing, car mechanics, agriculture and horticulture will eventually become part of the entrepreneurial class that drives the UK economy.
What impresses me about Ofstead is that the rigour of the inspection ensures that the educational establishment delivers root and branch. This will not be a beauty parade and style over substance is bound to be uncovered. What gives me hope is the tireless work that the entire college has done over the year that I have been involved. The focus, professionalism and passion to manage adversity and manage fundamental reform would set it on a par with any excellent organisation of a similar size in the private sector. That is not to say it is perfect but it wants to get it right…and for the right reason..not for the inspector but for the learner!