Colleges Week: A celebration of Further Education at Coventry College
Colleges Week is a celebration of Further Education and a chance to showcase the role colleges can play in transforming lives.
But this year, Coventry College has more to celebrate than most says Principal and CEO Carol Thomas.
A little over two years ago, it is fair to say that as an institution, the College was not in a good place.
We were in intervention and under close monitoring with the FE Commissioner team, we had received a financial notice to improve, a financial rating of inadequate, formal intervention and monitoring with the ESFA, we were in an exit strategy with the bank, and we had a financial deficit and depleted reserves.
Our two campuses – one of which was in need of serious repair – were under-used and lacked energy and vibrancy.
Now, just more than two years later, we are seen as one of the fastest turnaround colleges in the sector. Our financial rating has gone from inadequate to good, we are removed from all intervention on the ESFA and FE Commissioner, and now the bank has not only taken us out of the exit strategy, they have actually nominated us for two awards!
We transitioned to one campus in just six months, which in itself is remarkable, and we now have a lively and energetic college in the heart of our city. This has allowed us to concentrate all our funds and focus into a single site and provide the best experience possible for our learners.
People who have known the site in the past comment that it looks and feels like a new college. Moving staff and learners is not easy, but everyone can see the improvement – at break times there can be up 3,000 people out and about and the energy is tangible.
There is no massive secret to how the team have achieved the turnaround. It was about identifying the key issues and making sure they were addressed with speed and focus. We accelerated the pace on planning, staff utilisation, reducing agency staffing levels, and ensuring that we removed poor areas of the curriculum.
We have been stringent with our budget and have ensured the information we have when making financial decisions is accurate and up to date.
All those measures are just good business practice, and we have really made sure we have been honest and transparent with our staff. We were frank and spelled out that if we did not make the necessary changes we would not get to where we needed to be.
Staff have responded magnificently in what has been a very difficult and challenging time, not only with what we have been doing here but also during a pandemic.
For some members of staff, the change has been enormous. Some of them had worked at Henley for 30-or-so years and in comes a new principal and, within three months, that principal says a campus has to close.
People enjoyed working there, they had become accustomed to it and it had masses of space, but, equally, many recognised that what we were doing was for the long-term good, however big a decision it was.
We have also flexed our offer to learners to ensure that not only are we helping to create the best opportunities for them, but that we are in turn helping employers and strengthening the local economy. One example is the creation of our Charge Up Your Future campaign.
When the college campus was created, we had contracts with the bus and coach companies. But that work had ceased over time, so we had a good look at what the industry needs now and into the future and how that space could be used.
We had early conversations with the potential Gigafactory and what would be needed in this area and looked at the council plans around green energy and travel.
We put in our Skills Accelerator bid and as a result we have been able to invest £1.8 million in those areas through an electric vehicle and retrofit training facility, helping employers and students prepare for a zero-carbon future.
It’s about knowing what the market wants, what we can do and if we can get the resources to make that happen.
We work very well with the West Midlands Combined Authority and the Local Authority – as we do with a multitude of partners – and are looking very closely at how we can help upskill people who are already in work to allow them to move into high-demand posts which need to be filled to boost the economy and thereby raise their income.
That is just one high-profile example and there are many others.
So, there is an enormous amount happening at Coventry College and I believe we are in a very good place to help people fulfil their potential and ambitions. Like the rest of the economy, we have been through difficult times but we have emerged in great shape and I would urge people to look at what we have to offer – you might be surprised!