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Education briefing - The new duty on governing bodies in the FE sector to review how well its education/training meets local needs – important guidance published

  • United Kingdom
  • Education - Briefings



Section 52B of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, which was inserted by the Skills and Post-16 Education Act 2022 (and came into force on 28 June 2022) places a duty on governing bodies of institutions in the further education sector to review how well the education or training provided by the institution meets local needs, and consider what action might be taken in order to meet those needs better. In carrying out this review, the governing body must have regard to any guidance published by the Secretary of State. This guidance was duly published by the Department for Education (DfE) on 6 July 2022.

The statutory guidance will be reviewed in late 2022 to ensure it aligns with the separate non-statutory guidance on accountability agreements it is due to publish then. These new agreements will be between governing bodies and the Department for Education, and will apply from the academic year 2023/24.

It is in accountability agreements that we see the greatest potential for risk for colleges. Most institutions would recognise that delivering for its local community is important. Most colleges would also welcome a process to best consider how it may carry out that delivery. However, if colleges are to be penalised for failing to deliver the outputs of their own plan (parts of which may be outside the college’s control), then this would be concerning.

Potential duplication between a college’s funding agreement and accountability agreement could be an issue. The “Skills for Jobs” White Paper promised less regulation for colleges and simpler funding rules. So bringing in more guidance and potentially more agreements with the Department for Education would seem to be moving in opposite direction to that which had been promised.

What is in the new statutory guidance?

Before we look in more detail at what is in the statutory guidance there are a number of key points to note:

• governing bodies must undertake regular reviews of how well the education or training provided by the college meets local needs, in particular needs relating to local employment

• governing bodies should undertake a review at least every three years, or when a new local skills improvement plans (LSIP) is published, if earlier

• in reviewing provision within a local area, governing bodies are expected to collaborate with other governing bodies also serving that area

• governing bodies are required to publish the outcome of their reviews on their websites

• governing bodies must consider what actions they and other providers can take to better meet local needs, in particular to better ensure learners have the skills needed to secure suitable employment

• accountability agreements (due to be introduced in academic year 2023/24) should reflect any actions governing bodies have agreed to take as a result of a review

• the responsibility for the curriculum offer continues to rest with individual governing bodies


The guidance states that governing bodies have the flexibility to conduct reviews in a way that is tailored to their circumstances but they should ensure that their approach is consistent with the following principles:

• reviews should be evidence-based - they should be underpinned by evidence, balancing both forward and backward-looking data and information, with governing bodies using readily available evidence such as the LSIP, and the information used to develop those plans, including the data being made available through the new Unit for Future Skills (an analytical and research unit within the DfE which has been set up to improve the quality of jobs and skills data).

• reviews should focus on improvement – in addition to building on established strengths, reviews should identify areas where improvement is required - together with an assessment of the key barriers that need to be addressed for improvement to be achieved.

• reviews should be collaborative - where there is more than one governing body involved in meeting the needs of a local area, governing bodies should consider collaboration in undertaking the reviews.

• reviews should be timely - to ensure that they remain relevant they should take place at least every three years, or when a new LSIP is published, if that is earlier.

• reviews should involve stakeholders, including local employers - stakeholders should have the opportunity to comment on the emerging review before it is published, to provide external challenge and validation.

• reviews should be proportionate - the scope and focus of the reviews should reflect the mission, specialisms and local area(s) served by the college or colleges through which provision is delivered. Therefore, the scope of the review will be broader for colleges that offer a wide range of provision than for a college primarily focused on specialist provision.

• reviews should be integrated with strategic and business planning - actions should be integrated into colleges curriculum, estates and financial planning processes, and these should also be reflected in accountability agreements.

In carrying out reviews, governing bodies are encouraged to challenge themselves and others serving the local area about their provision. The guidance sets out a number of questions they might want to ask themselves including:

• how do governing bodies and other providers know they are meeting local needs, in particular local employment-related needs?

• how does the current provision support learners hoping to secure local employment?

• how is the curriculum changing to increase the employment rates and salaries of learners when they leave?

• where would strengthening collaboration help overcome barriers to meeting local needs, in particular local employment-related needs?

• is intake limited to popular provision?

• does the curriculum on offer enable learners, particularly those studying below level 3, to make sufficient progress?

• what provision has stopped, and what impact does that have on how well local needs are being met?

Interpreting need

In interpreting need, governing bodies should consider both enabling learners to meet employer skills needs and wider learner needs.

In order to enable learners to secure suitable employment with employers in the area, the guidance says that governing bodies and their colleges will want to build strong partnerships with individual employers, the designated employer representative body, Local Enterprise Partnerships, Chambers of Commerce and other representative groups and forums to understand local skills needs. These needs will be both tactical (immediate) and strategic (future) and different sectors will have varying needs. Governing bodies should also consider what they know about potential future employers and their skills needs.

A key consideration when addressing learner needs is to ensure that the education and training provided by the college enables learners (both current learners in the local area and potential future learners) to progress to skilled sustainable employment. The guidance gives examples of different groups of learners who may have different needs (learners with SEND; young people not in education, employment or training; 16-19 learners; apprentices; adults returning to learning; part-time learners who are in employment; and prisoners and prison leavers).

The guidance makes it clear that it is for governing bodies to determine their local area for the purposes of the review, which should be done by looking primarily at the travel to learn patterns of learners and travel to work patterns. But that governing bodies with geographically dispersed colleges will need to define the local area for each of their colleges, and will be expected to carry out a review for each local area served.

Working with others

In making the assessment of how well the overall provision in the area meets local needs now and

prepares for those that will emerge in the future, the guidance strongly encourages governing bodies to collaborate with other governing bodies and engage with other education providers serving their local area including independent training providers, schools and/or universities. 

It says governing bodies should also engage with other local stakeholders including:

• employers

• any designated employer representative body

• learners (recognising that different learners have different needs)

• the college’s own workforce

• local authorities

• any combined authority (where learners are funded through one)

• Jobcentre Plus

• Regional Directors at the DfE (in relation to 16-19 provision by schools in the local area)

Review conclusions and actions

The review should identify how well a college is currently meeting local needs, in particular local needs associated with securing suitable employment. On completion of the review governing bodies must publish the report on the college website, which should be within three months of completion of the review. Where reviews have been endorsed by key stakeholders, such as local authorities or employers, then these endorsements can be published alongside the review conclusion.

Under the legislation, governing bodies are required to consider, in light of the review, what actions might be taken to better meet local needs. This could include, for example, decisions to expand the curriculum offer to respond to emerging needs relating to securing local employment, or to collaborate with other providers to strengthen the quality and resilience of local provision and it is for governing bodies to determine the feasibility of these actions. Agreed actions derived from the reviews should be integrated into existing curriculum, estates and financial planning processes. Governing bodies should engage at an early stage with their territorial team lead and the FE Commissioner if any of the agreed actions following on from the review could lead to structural changes.

When accountability agreements are introduced (academic year 2023/24), governing bodies should reflect any actions they have agreed to take in light of a review as part of these agreements. The review conclusions and associated accountability agreements (when introduced) will be part of the ongoing territorial team and FE Commissioner discussions with governing bodies, including as part of annual strategic conversations.