2016 Conference Story

AoC Annual Conference & Exhibition

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The Association of Colleges’ Annual Conference is a must-attend for all in the further education (FE) sector.  The 2016 event, held in the ICC, Birmingham saw hundreds of delegates over three days hear from expert speakers, question policymakers and politicians, network with colleagues, celebrate success and meet with our conference sponsors and over 90 exhibitors.  BBC journalist Steph McGovern led the conference.

Day One

The conference was kicked off with an interview with broadcaster and former college student Reggie Yates, winner of an AoC Gold Award in 2016. He reinforced the importance of colleges, particularly in working with students to help them achieve their dreams – as City and Islington College did for him.  David Hughes, AoC’s new Chief Executive followed, with stating that colleges should be confident, optimistic and ambitious about their futures.

Delegates were provided with two breakout session strands, each with 14 choices of specialisms – from leadership for diversity to technology; from funding to SEND reforms.

Tuesday’s afternoon session focused on learning, with delegates hearing from Sir David Carter, National Schools Commissioner, Lord Sainsbury, Chair of the Independent Panel on Technical Education and a panel of college principals who discussed the Skills Plan and the future of the sector.

Day Two

Ian Ashman, AoC’s President, kicked off the second day of conference with an impassioned speech about the importance of mental health and wellbeing for students.  He was followed by Baroness Susan Greenfield CBE, a neuroscientist who discussed the importance of bringing out the best in students.  Comedian and mental health campaigner Ruby Wax rounded off the morning’s session highlighting the significance of understanding and support for students with mental health issues.

Hot topics on areas such as skills, accountability, careers advice and social mobility allowed delegates to debate and discuss issues in more detail.  Plus breakout sessions on topics including English and maths, apprenticeships and governance provided more specialist conversation opportunities. The afternoon concluded with an entertaining and thought provoking lecture on strategic leadership from Costas Markides, Professor of Strategic and International Management at London Business School.

The evening saw a celebration of all things FE – with the winners of the Beacon, Student Photographer and Student of the Year awards being announced by comedian Jon Culshaw.  Attendees were also entertained with a range of musical treats from college students.

Day Three

The final day of conference concentrated on skills and opportunities.  The morning session saw delegates hear from Carole Stott, the Chair of AoC’s Board, Dr Neil Bentley, Chief Executive of WorldSkills UK and Peter Lauener, Shadow Chief Executive of the Institute for Apprenticeships.  The Secretary of State for Education, Rt Hon Justine Greening MP made her first visit to AoC’s conference and highlighted the importance of FE.

Focussed forums on different areas of skills and apprenticeships considered new and innovative ways for colleges to make the apprenticeship agenda work for colleges.

The conference concluded with Richard Atkins, the FE Commissioner, Gordon Marsden MP, the Shadow Minister for Higher Education, Further Education and Skills, and Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, the Minister of State for Apprenticeships and Skills.  He confirmed his commitment to the sector, highlighting the remarkable leadership he has seen in colleges.  David Hughes, AoC’s Chief Executive concluded the conference stressing the importance of colleges – what we do matters.

Day One Highlights - Colleges mean business

Chair Steph McGovern & student journalist Kyle Tagg interviewed Reggie Yates

Reggie Yates to colleges, “Make the most of your former students. I’m still in touch with my college.

AoC Chief Executive David Hughes was next to take to the stage.

David Hughes, “I want us to be much more ambitious and confident. We must be agenda setters, not victims.”

Afternoon Session - Sir David Carter and Lord Sainsbury of Turville

Sir David Carter, “We need to reach a position where young people leave compulsory education seeing it as the start of the education progress, not the end.”

Lord Sainsbury, “There is no sector better equipped to provide technical education than the FE sector.”

Day Two Highlights - Colleges mean students

AoC President Ian Ashman opened day two of the conference.

Ian Ashman, “We support 37% of all 16 to 18-year-olds and 1.9 million adult students. Colleges are right to expect recognition for the work that we do with students.”

And in the Year of Mental Health, Baroness Susan Greenfield and Ruby Wax rounded off a great morning session.

Ruby Wax, “We know so much about technology but we know nothing about how our brains work.”

Review of the morning session

Afternoon Session - Costas Markides

Leadership Lecture: Responding to disruptive change

Costas Markides, “Innovation is about stealing ideas from other people, steal with pride!”

Evening - Student and Beacon Awards

The AoC Beacon awards recognised and celebrated outstanding teaching and learning in the FE sector.

The AoC Student of the Year awards highlighted the students from across the country who have gone above and beyond to achieve success.

2016 Winners (left to right)

16 to 18-year-olds – Lotte Gleeson, Nelson and Colne College

19-year-old and over – Michal Kolanski, Craven College

Apprentice – Zac Challinor, Salford City College

The topic ‘How colleges change lives’ was chosen for the 2016 Student Photographer of the Year award with Edward Thomas of Newcastle-under-Lyme College named the winner.

Day Three Highlights - Colleges mean skills

Dr. Neil Bentley, Chief Executive of World Skills kicked off the final day of the 2016 annual conference.

Dr Neil Bentley, “We need a national skills upgrade.”

Peter Lauener followed, speaking on what can be learnt from the history of apprenticeships.

Peter Lauener, ““Further Education is so important in meeting the needs of employers and communities.”

Rt Hon Justine Greening MP

Justine Greening, “I want to see technical education on a par with academic education.”

“The skills agenda is far too important to be kicked around like a political football.”

A few words from our delegates

The final session

Richard Atkins spoke about his role as FE Commissioner and what he wants colleges to achieve.

Richard Atkins, “I want as many colleges as possible to be good or outstanding.”

Gordon Marsden MP on the 15 technical education routes, “Speak out if you have concerns about the potential narrowness of some of the routes.”

“Colleges can’t be expected to turn on a five penny when Government changes direction or when the Treasury needs to find savings.”

Rt Robert Halfon MP presented the final keynote of AoC’s Annual Conference 2016

Robert Halfon “I want colleges to be thinking big – FE should be at the front of the queue with apprenticeships.”

In conclusion

David Hughes closing remarks, “I’m going to leave the conference even more confident & optimistic about the future of the sector.”


A big thank you to our 2016 conference sponsors Dynistics, OCR, Pearson and Unit 4.

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