Delayed trains, jumping from planes and vehicles for debate at the AoC Conference

Two weeks ago I set off hopefully to attend the the AoC Annual Conference and Exhibition 2015 at The ICC, Birmingham, little realising that if FE thought it was experiencing troubled times then our railways system is so much worse.  Monday evening and the Euston to Birmingham railway line was experiencing a perfect storm of vandalism, broken freight trains and a signalling problem which meant a simple 1.5 hour journey turned into a 4.5 endurance trip via Northampton and Stafford finally checking into my hotel just before midnight.

My reason for attending – to listen and learn direct from the sector, finding out first hand their issues and priorities so that we can shape our current service and better plan our future activities to support colleges through this challenging period.

I’m hoping this will be evident in both the support offer that we are currently developing for those colleges undergoing area reviews, see my previous blog and also inform the development of our Co-Design visions that set the parameters for how we innovate over the next 18 months-2 years and will be out for consultation after Christmas – watch this space for more news on how to get involved in this key consultation.

Tuesday morning and the buzz of the conference kicked in and revitalised me.  From the opening keynote which included a speech by Professor the Baroness Wolf of Dulwich CBE and Skills Minister Nick Boles who both talked about apprenticeships, although from different perspectives.  It is however clear that Apprenticeships are the future growth area with the Minister stating that currently the FE Sector secures 37% of apprenticeship funding with 60% going to private training providers and suggesting FE should be more ambitious and aim to deliver 67% of an increased apprenticeships training budget by 2020.

Lucy Adams, Managing Director of Firehouse and a founding partner of Disruptive HR and Lord Ian Blair QPM MA (the 24th Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police 2008) closed day one with two very lively and entertaining presentations on managing change, making this challenging subject interesting and innovative whilst highlighting the very serious issues faced by the sector in responding to these unprecedented levels of change including my favourite quote by Lord Blair: “Leaders are like tea bags you only know how good they are when the they get in hot water”.

In the exhibition hall there was a constant stream of visitors to stands as delegates moved between parallel sessions and the main hall, offering solutions and services for most FE needs. Key amongst these, of course, was the Jisc stand manned by Account Managers and Subject Specialists advising on the spot or arranging call backs for the more in depth queries. And I have to say I managed to find the time to have a caricature done and also experience a virtual reality parachute jump courtesy of The Army – the only way I ever intend to voluntarily leave a plane.

Day two continued in the same vein lots of choice and options over parallel sessions with The Big Debate at lunchtime serving up a serious dilemma over which session to attend having a focus on Apprenticeships and Area Reviews, both areas of interest for me and Jisc. After discussing with my colleagues also attending we divided and conquered managing to attend 4 out of the six options, and all were equally good and informative.

Although I only attended for two days my overall impression was that the conference was a huge success, well organised and a pleasure to attend. I came away having learnt a lot and also having had some seriously good food at the Gala Dinner served by students from Derby College, while learners at Derby College, South Cheshire College and Eastleigh College provided kitchen preparation support for the dinner.

Well done AOC and see you next year.

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