Winning at the board name game

July 12, 1996

The new board of the new further education body representing the nation's colleges met for the first time this week.

Few new boards can have faced such wide opportunities or heavy responsibilities.

They had a clean canvas on which to paint - not even the name of the new body had been decided.

Unfortunately, the eponymous "Association of British Colleges" has had to be rejected because the Department of Trade and Industry, in the face of opposition from Scotland, could not give permission for the use of 'British' in the title.

Some favoured the name of one of the antecedent bodies - the "Association for Colleges". But it was unlikely that the new board, heavily dominated by members of the board of the other antecedent body, the Colleges' Employers' Forum, would be inclined to dress up in their partner's clothes.

"Association of Further Education Colleges" would have offended the sixth form colleges - not wise when an early task is to arrange a further merger with the body representing them.

"The Association of Further Education and Sixth Form Colleges" is rather a mouthful and might have tempted providence if the expected further merger does not in the end take place. Anything with 'national' in the title might - horror of horrors - confuse the new body with Natfhe, the college lecturers' union.

The new board chose well in simply changing 'for' to 'of' to produce the "The Association of Colleges" - close enough to reflect the past but perhaps far enough away to establish a difference. We shall see.

Choosing a name might have been the least of the new board's worries. A rather more controversial decision was how to choose a new chief executive.

The camps were already established. There was some support for getting the pain over quickly and simply deciding between Ruth Gee and Roger Ward.

But the board has shown it has swallowed the Nolan medicine. It has opted for external advertising when the employment law argument might have favoured ring-fencing.

And to show itself to be wholly impartial it has appointed the existing chief executives as joint chief executives in the interim period, resisting the temptation to choose either one or the compromise of an interim manager.

I did feel a pang of regret earlier this week when the new board met and I was not there, but contemplating the first few items on their agenda made me realise that this is a kitchen where the heat is very fierce indeed.

And that is before the brain-teasing issues - what to do about the Association of Principals of Colleges and the regional further education bodies, let alone the sixth form colleges - has been contemplated.

Even those issues are about form rather than substance. For the real problems facing the association is how to project further education to an unsuspecting world and also how to stand toe-to-toe with the Government on the vexed question of funding.

And then there is that unfinished business of the dispute with Natfhe and the looming dispute with the Association for College Management and, perhaps, Unison.

If the kitchen is hot, cold fronts are closing in. I wish all my former colleagues in the AFC and CEF the very best of (British) luck.

Keith Scribbins is chair of the governors of South Bristol College and of the CEF.

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