Stone King’s Head of Further Education, Partner Tom Morrison, reflects on Colleges Week and the importance of trust below, or his LinkedIn article can be viewed here: Loving our colleges means trusting them.

Centred around the theme of ‘get in, go further’, Colleges Week (18 to 22 October 2021) has offered us an opportunity to see some fantastic examples of colleges making that crucial difference to individuals nationwide – helping them to be their best selves, to lead enriched and productive lives and to support their families, communities, employers, society and the economy. 

Part of Love Our Colleges – now rightly more of a movement than a campaign – Colleges Week also reminds us all that we have a part to play in supporting the work of colleges. As well as those amazing college tutors, leaders and governors, we of course need committed students, employers and (dare I say) advisors to contribute in a way which maximises and amplifies the astonishing impact which colleges have. 

A key stakeholder for every college is the Government, including most notably the Department for Education in its various guises. None of us operate in isolation and the same is true of DfE. There is a social and economic context to everything and that applies to the billions of pounds invested – not just ‘spent’ – in colleges, in all our names as taxpayers, every year. It is obvious that this investment pays back so significantly in so many ways, and indeed there is much empirical evidence to support this, but the case is rightly continually being made.  As a country we have a wealth of resources with a whole range of demands being placed upon them and we need to decide how those resources are allocated. With less than a week to go before the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review is known, Colleges Week is well timed.

So that takes me to the topic of trust.  There are many insightful quotes we could pick from, but one which my Partner Ciara Campfield here in the Education Team at Stone King enjoys paraphrasing is that progress is only made at the speed of trust. That is true in so many aspects of life and I would suggest that, right now – following the publication of the Skills for Jobs White Paper and as the Skills and Post 16 Education Bill makes its way through Parliament – the relationship between the Government and colleges has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to evolve in a way which is more firmly built on a presumption of mutual trust. 
There have been some difficult periods over the past decade or so, with restricted public finances being allocated in a way which has left the basis of funding for further education in a relatively static state.  Recent years have seen public recognition by the Government that colleges have a critical and central role to play in advancing society and the economy. It was true before Brexit and the pandemic, but the reality is clearer than it has ever been that we need colleges to thrive if we are to make the most of the life-changing opportunities they offer.

People with more relevant skills than I will be working out what financial resources are available and how they can and should be allocated, but we will only be able to make the most of the opportunities we have before us if we can build upon firm foundations of mutual trust. Trust needs to be granted, and it needs to be felt. The words we use matter. Our actions matter.  Everyone working within, and supporting, the sector has common goals. So whether you lead, work within or govern a college, whether you fund or advise the sector, or whether you are an employer or someone starting their journey learning new skills with the support of your local college…. let’s use this opportunity to work together closer than ever before.  Let’s trust in the good that pervades and let’s all look forward with well founded confidence to a future where the transformative potential of colleges is maximised. 

Love our colleges. I do.