The Annual Association of Colleges (AoC) Conference exhibition took place at the ICC in Birmingham on the 20th and 21st November 2018. The agenda was jam packed, and below we’ve summarised the key thoughts of the Gateway Qualifications team who attended.

Playing Politics

Two very different speeches, from two very different politicians, with two very different receptions.

A somewhat uninspiring speech from Skills Minister Anne Milton MP after turning up late to the stage and not accepting questions was greeted less than enthusiastically. With nothing new to tell the sector her main thrust was that colleges “must make good use of the money available and good use of the resources we put your way. Then, and only then can I and you make the case for additional.”

This is not promising for the near future prospects of additional funding for the sector and didn’t go down well with delegates with one quipping “so we need to show that we don’t need extra funding in order to receive extra funding.”

In marked contrast, a passionate shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner MP, used her appearance to announce that a Labour government would scrap the requirement for compulsory GCSE English and maths resits. Instead providing an opportunity for learners to pursue other courses that would lead to level 2 English and maths, such as Functional Skills.

We wait with bated breath for the outcome of the spending review…

Progression is key

Although qualifications are important, thinking about how a learner can progress is more so. It is important to develop the skills that young people need as this will have a dramatic impact on their lives. Attitude is the principal thing for colleges to consider at Level 1 and Level 2. If a learner doesn’t have the academic ability needed but has the right attitude, they will achieve.

Colleges want to do what is best to help their learners progress but are often faced with external constraints such as the condition of funding for English and maths. Qualifications are not necessarily the right thing for all learners, as this can also be a constraint but if a qualification isn’t used colleges need to ensure they have robust methods in place to provide a coherent framework and demonstrate progress and achievement.


The issue of funding just will not go away. As mentioned above, Anne Milton was very clear in her thoughts that colleges aren’t showing that they deserve more funding and need to show better leadership.

In the popular Funding breakout, the ESFA and AoC highlighted the falling 16-19 numbers (down 30,000) and programme funding (down by £113m or 2.3%). Although adult funding is now higher than it was when compared to 17/18 and there’s capacity for more use of loans as these are under delivery by 35%.

The ESFA has reduced underperforming grant funded allocations and has increased high performing colleges. Their new insolvency regime comes into force 31st January 2019, although it will only be “used as a last resort”

Adult funding continues to change, with new post-Brexit eligibility criteria expected from next March, watch this space and make sure you follow us on Twitter for more when we know it.

There will be a new digital entitlement for first teaching from 2020 with both DfE and Ofqual consulting until mid-January 2019; make sure they hear your views.

Devolution is happening, and it’s happening in different ways in different areas – as you’d expect as devolved areas respond to their local needs. But you could be affected by devolution even if you’re not in a devolved area as the remaining national allocations will be impacted since 50% of the existing budget is allocated for the devolved areas.

Final allocations to providers will be confirmed in March 2019. Keep an eye out for our ever-popular funding webinars for all the information you need.

Learners first

In the closing plenary, Ofsted’s Amanda Spielman expressed concern that some colleges are chasing income rather than the best interests of their learners. Citing some subjects with an extremely high uptake with little prospect of future employment in the industry, she mentioned that colleges risk giving false hope to these learners and this is not acceptable.

This was met with real disagreement from the group and in particular Debra Gray, Principal of Grimsby Institute, who stated that the creative industries contribute £85bn to the UK economy.

On a more positive note the plenary session seemed to be well received (and was very well attended) with more focus on the curriculum being Ofsted’s key point with clear progression outcomes to the next level of study or employment.

Let’s shout about ourselves more!

Colleges need to publicise themselves and the good that they do in their communities more. This message was delivered by almost every speaker on day one: David Hughes; Krishnan Guru-Murphy; Anne Milton – all said variations of this.

One example of how this is being achieved is through the celebration of success of vocational skills from students across the UK that is WorldSkills UK.

The event has proven evidence of the inspiring work across the students, staff and colleges involved at all stages of the competition.  It was fantastic to see the achievements of Team UK at EuroSkills Budapest, and hear how colleges are supporting each other with getting involved.

If you have success stories you’d like to share we’d love to hear them, email with details. Perhaps you’ve implemented a new approach which has had a positive impact on your learners, maybe you’ve entered for WorldSkills or perhaps you’ve got a heart-warming story of inspirational learner success.


Colleges just can’t work in the same way that they always have done. They need to adapt to work differently within the existing funding constraints, making use of different ways of working and different technologies to ensure that they can survive and thrive

Increasingly colleges are using software such as that offered by Google and Microsoft to increase effectiveness of assessment and feedback. Technology is bringing many advantages from changing the way that feedback is given to allowing colleges and learners to collaborate with others. Use of technology is saving teaching hours allowing staff more time to focus on areas that may have been neglected.

In the exhibition hall, Gateway Qualifications was demonstrating our new blended learning platform for Access to HE, if you didn’t get a chance to see it at the conference, you can watch our webinar to see the system for yourself.