2017 Conference Story

AoC Annual Conference & Exhibition

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AoC Annual Conference and Exhibition 2017 - A sector united



This year’s Association of Colleges’ (AoC) Annual Conference and Exhibition took place from 14-15 November at The ICC Birmingham, in a new two-day format. The Conference took place after a year of challenge for the further education sector with funding cuts, policy reform and the complexity of mergers putting increased pressure on the sector. Over the two days, senior leaders from across the country came together to hear from expert speakers, question policymakers and politicians, network with colleagues, celebrate success and meet with over 90 exhibitors. BBC journalist Steph McGovern chaired the conference for the second consecutive year.

Day one

The Conference was kicked off with a speech from Rt Hon Anne Milton MP, Minister of State for Apprenticeships and Skills and Minister for Women. She praised colleges for their exceptional work during difficult times and said that further education is central to delivering a prosperous future after Brexit. She also stressed that she would act as a champion for the further education sector and fight for funding. After AoC Chair Carol Stott’s message of a united sector working together as a powerful force for good, delegates were treated to a fascinating speech from writer and broadcaster Matthew Syed. Using numerous of examples of organisations have made incremental gains in performance, he encouraged colleges to follow suit in order to improve organisation strategy and culture. Delegates were then invited to join some of the 26 breakout sessions that took place across two strands in the afternoon.

Tuesday’s afternoon keynote session saw Rt Hon Jeremy Corbyn take to the stage and outline his vision of a new National Education Service, providing free education and the opportunity to retrain and upskill at any time. He was critical of the current Government’s austerity measures and vowed to fight for more funding for further education institutions. He was followed by Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman who praised Colleges for their performance in the past year’s Ofsted inspections with seven in ten Colleges rated as good or better. She recognised the challenge of a lack of funding but enforced that the need for a strong and effective college sector has never been more pressing. Finally, she announced that Ofsted would be conducting early monitoring visits at new providers entering the apprenticeship market to prevent any potential waste of public money (read full speech). The afternoon session was concluded by AoC Chief Executive David Hughes who outlined his dream budget ahead of the upcoming budget announcement. He expressed his wish for funding across the sector for estates, new technology, college staff, investment in apprenticeships and adult education (read full speech).

AoC Awards Evening

The evening saw a celebration of all things FE – with the winners of the Beacon, Student Video and Student of the Year awards being announced. Attendees were also entertained with a range of musical numbers from college students.


Student Video of the Year –   Rachel Irving, Chesterfield College

Young Student of the Year – Sophie Ainsworth, Nelson and Colne College

Adult Student of the Year – Rachelle Wabissa, Bath College

Apprentice of the Year – Danielle Thomas, City College Southampton

See full list of Beacon Award winners

Day two

The second day of the Conference began with AoC Deputy Chief Executive Julian Gravatt’s annual Funding Forum allowing delegates to catch up on the key funding issues affecting the sector. David Corke, Director of Education and Skills Policy at AoC also delivered a Data Forum which gave a detailed view of 16/17 results and 17/18 early recruitment indicators from MiDES returns.

The morning keynote session started with AoC President Alison Birkinshaw giving some personal accounts of how further education supported her, praising the legacy left by a number of influential Principals and encouraging delegates in the room to create their own legacy (read full speech). Delegates were then given an opportunity to learn more about the new Office for Students from its Chief Executive Nicola Dandridge. She said that the Offices’ key goals will include creating a level playing field between different providers and more choice for students. The final morning keynote saw science writer and broadcaster Timandra Harkness give an informative and entertaining speech on future of learning and technology with interesting insights into the potential relationship between machine and human learning.

The afternoon allowed delegates to attend eight hot topics sessions on areas such English and Maths, the skills gap, the common inspection framework and apprenticeship in addition to a selection of detailed breakout sessions.

The final keynote session saw Ipsos MORI Chief Executive Ben Page examine how to manage reputation and the challenges and opportunities ahead for further education. Students were then invited onto the stage as part of a panel discussion on what colleges have done well and how they can improve education for students. Labour Party Director of Communications Alastair Campbell then gave the final keynote speech on colleges and mental health in the context of global uncertainty, weak leadership and Brexit. He spoke about the need for a clear strategy, strong leadership and what he called teamship.

A sector united

AoC’s Annual Conference and Exhibition left delegates with a real sense of optimism and togetherness during this difficult time. There is no doubt that progress is being made despite a plethora of challenges to the sector and that is down to the hard work of colleges, staff and their students. The Conference epitomises positivity and those in attendance were able to take away new partnerships, friendship and knowledge that can be implemented to make their colleges successful.

A thank you

Thank you to all the staff, delegates, speakers, student volunteers, sponsors and exhibitors for making the Conference a huge success again this year. An extra thank you to Headline sponsors Pearson and Conference sponsors Dynistics, LocatED and Mindful Education for their support.

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If you have any questions regarding this event, please call the conference helpline on 0207 034 9934 or email annualconference@aoc.co.uk