Key insights from the Association of Colleges Annual Conference 2022

The AoC annual conference took place at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham across two full days on 15 and 16 November. CAVA’s Deputy CEO Emily Ross and Communications and Events Officer Sam Whitaker were pleased to attend both days and their key insights from the sessions they attended are summarised below.

The conference touched on the country’s current big issues such as the changing job market, the cost of living crisis, pandemic recovery and climate emergency, and encouraged delegates to consider how skills and the FE sector can respond to, and be part of, the solutions to these issues. In addition to these big issues, the sector is also seeing ambitious curriculum reforms to qualifications from entry to Level 5. Delegates were encouraged to consider the educational landscape for 2030 and reflect on the impact for study programmes and adult courses both nationally and at local level.

In a landscape which is seeing such changes, a critical starting point for leaders in the FE sector is to focus on the steps they can take to impact their working environment, the positive changes they can effect at their institutions, and strategies and methods for protecting their own mental health and wellbeing. Dr Sophie Bostick, Sleep Scientist challenged delegates to take up methods for maintaining healthy sleep patterns, whilst Professor Kevin Fong OBE spoke about his experiences working as the National Clinical Advisor in Emergency Preparedness Resilience and Response for the COVID-19 incident. Key learnings were how to adapt one’s own and one’s institutional work styles to meet the challenges posed by high-risk and unpredictable situations, and how appropriate delegation of authority and effective communication with one’s team and stakeholders supports reflection and resilience within the workplace.

Graham Hasting-Evans, CEO NOCN and Tracey Patmore, Head of Product Development NOCN, invited delegates to consider their roles in the provision of new skills emerging from the Government’s plans for achieving Net-Zero, including those arising through new occupations as well as through upskilling requirements in existing jobs. Delegates were also encouraged to think about their own institutional Net-Zero plans through a session supporting providers’ reporting of carbon emissions using the Department for Education’s standardised framework, delivered by Department for Education, EAUC and AoC.

Through a panel session with Pat Carvalho, Principal and CEO Birmingham Metropolitan College, Lee Elliot Major, Professor of Social Mobility University of Exeter and Ian Pryce, Chief Executive The Bedford College, delegates were invited to reflect upon the difference between social mobility and social justice, and consider ways in which further education can provide fair and meaningful solutions to the challenges posed by the current economic and cost-of-living crises.

.There have been a number of commissions and reviews over recent years, including the Independent Commission on the College of the Future and the ongoing ResPublica Lifelong Learning Commission, and FE representatives have a key role to play towards building a post-16 education and skills system that works for the future. Speakers from ResPublica, AoC, NFER and DfE encouraged delegates to work together to feed into current thinking and agree priorities to take forward as a sector.

The CAVA team would like to thank the AoC for an excellent conference.