It’s been a truly manic couple of weeks work-wise!  However, there’s been a real buzz for me with everything that’s been happening and I’ve felt really excited about being part of so many great initiatives.

The Skills Team at the British Council asked me to help them co-ordinate the Skills Networking Reception that they were holding at Going Global in Dubai in early March.  We were hopeful for a good number of people attending with an interest in skills, but given the tight timescales and the fact that many could also have already been invited to other pre-conference events there was some uncertainty.  In the end the room was full on the night and there was a great mix of people there apparently!  I didn’t attend, but did the work remotely and it seemed to work OK like that!  It just goes to show that mobile working is the future!  I was pleased that people responded positively to the reception and hope that the British Council will now look to do this event annually as a way of increasing the visibility of Skills at this important international conference.  Job well done!

Almost immediately as I finished up with the GG13 skills reception I was asked to help co-ordinate the arrangements for a group of Chinese Principals who were coming to the UK as part of the UK China Partners in Education (UKCPIE) Principals Shadowing Programme. There are currently 12 Principals and 2 Chinese Ministry of Education reps who are out currently spending 10 days with 12 UK College Principals and senior managers.  All is going well so far.  The UK Colleges have been sending me the programmes for their stay and they’re all taking part in some really interesting meetings and visits.  Last week many of them were involved in National Apprenticeship Week events.  I went out to carry out a monitoring visit to Barnsley College and will be on a train shortly to visit New College Durham to meet UK FE colleagues and their Chinese Principal.  What I have found is that whilst there could have been an initial assumption that it would be the Chinese learning from the Brits this has been turned on its head and there seems to be plenty that we can learn from our Chinese colleagues.  There is increasing mutuality of benefit to international partnerships, which is exactly as it should be.

Lord Mayor of Barnsley with Barnsley College's Chinese visitors

Lord Mayor of Barnsley with Barnsley College’s Chinese visitors

Whilst all this has been going on there was the ‘not so’ small matter of my fantastic new colleague from AoC India in New Delhi, John Philip, having his visit to the UK.  JP has been over for about 10 days and has been all over the UK visiting as many of the AoC member Colleges as time is permitting.  Yesterday we had a fantastic AoC India strategy conference at Bournville College. With 33 member Colleges we had a delegate list nearing 50 in number.  Whilst it’s taken some time putting together both JP’s programme and organising the practical arrangements and sessions for yesterday it has been worthwhile.  The opportunity to get people into a room together and start thrashing out issues and strengthening their own working relationships was invaluable.  There are some great potential opportunities on the table for AoC India.

John Philip (JP) in London in the snow!

John Philip (JP) in London in the snow!


In my voluntary work I have a Board Meeting for Euricon in Utrecht in the Netherlands on Friday.  I’m non-exec director for the company which is a EU consultancy offering project development support and opportunities.  I’m also sitting on an interview panel next week for a senior appointment at school where I’m a community governor and then the day after have my monthly volunteering slot serving tea and coffee at the Alzheimer’s Society’s dementia cafe in Wakefield.

After Easter I’m due to visit a few Colleges to offer my consultancy services and I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into that along with continuing to work for AoC and NAS on the World Skills Legacy project – especially looking at moving things forward with working on this with India and Brazil.

I’ve neglected the International FE News section of my blog, but I’m updating that so please have a look for information about funding deadlines and conferences which may be of interest to you.



I never take for granted the fact that I have a great job. I work with some very experienced colleagues and get lots of opportunities to meet FE peeps from all over the UK and internationally. I work on lots of really interesting projects. One such project over the past year or so has been AoC India. A group of 32 UK Colleges have come together to have a permanent team in India which will seek out business development opportunities.

John Mountford, me and John Philip at AoC India launch

John Mountford, me and John Philip at AoC India launch

Last month all our hard work paid off with the successful launch of AoC India in New Delhi. For me, both professionally and personally, the week in India was one I’ll remember for a long time.  After working so hard for so long I felt very proud when the Minister, Matthew Hancock, officially opened the office at a glittering reception at the British High Commissioner’s residence in New Delhi.  The week was full of really busy but fascinating meetings about the current skills scene in India which is, quite frankly, mind-blowing!

Asha Khemka and Minister for Skills, Matthew Hancock at AoC India launch

Asha Khemka and Minister for Skills, Matthew Hancock at AoC India launch

But personally too, I couldn’t help but be touched by India.  It’s a country developing fast and full of possibilities for it’s population, but also one that is still struggling with poverty and low education levels.  Just before our main programme began I went to old Delhi’s Red Fort with Mark Brickley, Vice Principal at Guildford College and Nick Linford and Shane Mann from FE Week.  The contrast between New and Old Delhi couldn’t be more stark.  Driving towards Old Delhi the buildings were in a very poor condition and, on stopping at traffic lights, we had a young boy with no legs tapping at the car window begging for money.  It’s a hard sight for a parent and a bit of a reality check.

Shane Mann and Nick Linford (FE Week) at the Red Fort

Shane Mann and Nick Linford (FE Week) at the Red Fort

I reflected on this with a Sally from Havering College, one of the lovely ladies that I was lucky enough to go to see the famous Taj Mahal with.  We realised that we’re quick to moan when the telly goes on the blink and I know I spend too much money on nice handbags….  A lot of these families in India are living with nothing but are still together as a family unit.  I don’t know what I personally can do to help.  I’m not 100% sure what 32 Colleges together can do, but I know that by trying we are saying we care and that we want to help in the spirit of international co-operation and partnership.

Tuk Tuk time!

Tuk Tuk time!

India Gate, New Delhi

India Gate, New Delhi

I spent a lot of time at the Taj Mahal taking photos of people –  Indian pilgrims paying homage to the temple which represents a man’s love for his dead wife.  I’ll not forget my first visit to India as long as I live and will always remember her as a vibrant, colourful and complex country – full of promise but still with in-roads to make in her future.

Jabeen Choudhry, Sally MacPherson and me at the Taj Mahal

Jabeen Choudhry, Sally MacPherson and me at the Taj Mahal

After a wet jubilee half-term in Anglesey it was back to reality.  It’s been a busy time and we’re already hurtling towards the end of the academic year!  What worries me is the shedload of work I have to get through before the summer hols start.

I’ve been involved, for AoC, in a couple of recent conferences.  Following on from a successful AoC International Conference in May, I also helped in the planning of EUproVET’s annual conference held this time in London. The European conference was a really interesting programme with engaging discussions, in spite of the UK’s Minister for Europe pulling out of a key note slot in the 11th hour! Instead we got presentations on EU funded social inclusion projects, a view on current skills agenda by Simon Bartley from World Skills and an inspiring address from Joe Sargison and student Jacob both from South Nottingham College with their award-winning Balls to Poverty charity.

During the day we also discussed Erasmus For All the proposed successor to the European Commission’s current Lifelong Learning Programme (Leonardo, Comenius, Grundtvig etc). If you haven’t considered applying for EU funding for a project then perhaps now is the time to try it!

AoC’s India initiative is developing well. It’s taking slightly longer than we anticipated, but that’s only because we’re committed to doing it right. We do have a really strong Strategic Management Group with Principal reps from across the UK. We’re really keen to get going with it!

Next week sees the launch of the research into international activity within the UK skills sector that AoC and British Council have been undertaking. We commissioned a consultancy to develop a survey and carry out follow-up interviews. Whilst some of the results are not so much of a surprise, there are others which see trends emerging for the sector. We’re intending to tie in some of the results to the Skills International strategy document and develop some useful tools and support frameworks for those working in international.

Another College client has asked me to deliver to workshop sessions at their upcoming College staff development day. ‘How to develop international bids’ and ‘Marketing your course overseas’ were the themes I was given. There’s a lot to pack into 90 minutes workshops, but I’m looking forward to meeting staff and delivering some useful sessions.

I’m also due to externally review a College for the AoC’s International Charter before the summer hols. The reviews take place over a fairly intense two days. Even though we try to reassure colleges’ international teams that it’s a review not an inspection it still seems to get colleagues a bit stressed. I take the responsibility of being an external reviewer very seriously. It takes a lot for a College to voluntarily put themselves through the process, so I always want to make sure I capture all the evidence I can. On a personal level, it’s also fantastic to see such breadth of good practice in international work

The best piece of post I’ve received recently contained Olympics tickets….  Don’t get excited – only 2 lots of football (Newcastle and Manchester) and table tennis in London, but in a way I’m glad I didn’t get everything I’d applied for….  I’d be bankrupt!  A UK based summer for us to look forward to so I hope the weather settles down a bit.  We have the Olympic torch passing through Wakefield next Monday and I am taking my son out of school for the morning to go and see it.  I figured that I wouldn’t see it again in the UK in my lifetime and even he might not. I will have union jacks at the ready (and probably an umbrella)!

Music-wise it’s been a bit quiet on the gig front.  There are a lot of festivals coming up, but I’m not sure I could do the camping for a festival.  Would need running water and a hairdryer!  We have got tickets to see Low play in a church in Halifax next month which, I have no doubt, will be amazing.  We saw them do a similar gig in Leeds Parish Church a number of years ago and it’s still one of the stand-out gigs for me.  Just found out Midlake are playing the Brudenell Social Club in August too, so I’ll hopefully catch them too.

Quote for the day:

Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated

Yes, I’m sorry.  It’s been a while.  I have to confess that the first part of 2012 hasn’t been great.  My 85 year old father’s health deteriorated fairly rapidly since Christmas and, sadly, Dad died on 1st April.  Dad was suffering from Alzheimer’s and, whilst pneumonia got him in the end, the dementia certainly played a big part.

Losing Dad has hit me harder than I thought it would.  Our parents are so intrinsically part of what makes us who we are.  They mould us and shape us.  Dad was from Dublin and fiercely proud of his Irish heritage and took every opportunity to talk about it, so much so that I’d find myself ‘rolling my eyes’ when he started up.  His main passions, however, were family and championing the ‘underdog’ – giving people a second chance.  And, I’ve realised, that my passions are not that dissimilar from his.  Thank you Dad for making me who I am.

As you can probably imagine, I’ve not really had the motivation to work on my blog over the last month or so, but I’m determined to get back on top of it again.

So, whilst it’s the end of an era, perhaps it’s the beginning of a new one for me and for my family.  R.I.P Noel Francis Allen.  Hope you’re indulging in a dram of Bushmills somewhere……

erm….. it’s been a while, I know, but with work and home life it’s been rather busy.

The start of the new year is always a mad dash towards EU funding deadlines and this year was no different.  Between assisting with AoC’s involvement in EU bidding opportunities and proof-reading ‘italian’ English to writing partnership proposals for a London College I never seemed to stop bleating on about the EU2020 goals…..  I can now, however, breathe a sigh of relief…. The EU deadlines have ended…

There’s always something else to replace a deadline that’s gone though…..

AoC’s India Partnership is gathering pace.  Still in the early stages of development, it will be a few weeks yet until we have our first Strategic Management Group for the initiative, but things are certainly busy behind the scenes.  NSDC (National Skills Development Council) are hoping to visit the UK from India in March to meet with UKCES and to visit FE colleges – I’ll be busy with organising the college visits in the next few days.  Also, we are already getting interested Indian stakeholders asking for appropriate UK skills sector partners.  For those UK colleges who have committed to joining the AoC UK India Partnership this means that they are already getting access to potential commercial opportunities and bid partners even before they sign on the dotted line (that will be happening soon though folks!).

The UK India Business Council (UKIBC) Summit will take place in Manchester on 14th March and for any FE colleagues looking to do business in India I would recommend it as an excellent networking and information gathering event.  Look out for me – I’ll be there too!

AoC’s International Conference is coming up on 15th May in central London.  Programme to be released in coming weeks.

Also, on the ‘events’ calendar – EUPROVET are holding their annual conference in London this year at Westminster Kingsway College  with AoC as country hosts.  The conference this year focuses on striving for Olympic achievements in skills to help the European economy recover from the recession.  Joao Delgado, the European Commission’s Head of Vocational Education and Training Policy Unit will also be addressing the conference as one of the speakers.

Other news –  AoC will be leading a FE college delegation to Brazil in June (dates currently being finalised). Brazil is another strategic international partner for the coalition government which is filtering through to the skills sector and the time is right to cement working partnerships.

And the FE Global Strategy that John Hayes asked AoC to write at the end of 2011 is underway.  Consultation exercises with a range of key stakeholders and FE colleagues is taking place and the document itself will be launched at the AoC’s International Conference on 15th May.

I’m also working on a research activity looking at international activity within the skills sector – where the skills sector are operating internationally, what their level of engagement is etc.  We’ll be contacting colleges, sector skills councils and awarding bodies in the next few weeks…

My flying visit to Belfast last week was manic, but really very interesting.  There were a number of Northern Irish colleges there and some of them were presenting their own EU projects as case studies.  A special mention must go to Belfast Metropolitan College and South West College for their inclusive approaches to partnership working. 

Whilst at the event the draft proposals for the new EU education & training funding programme were unveiled.  ‘Erasmus for All’ will succeed the EU Lifelong Learning Programme.  The LLP currently encompasses Leonardo da Vinci, Grundtvig, Comenius, Erasmus and Transversal, but the proposed new programme will do away with these familar names and aim to provide a less bureaucratic (I won’t hold my breath) and simpler framework of opportunities.  I have to say that on seeing the draft proposal, which you can find here, I am slightly concerned that there is a heavy focus on HE.  The overall budget, however, is significantly increased.  Let’s hope that they don’t decide to reduce it like they did before the launch of the current programme!

There will now be a consultation period between the European Commission and the national governments and also with stakeholders.  We have time to feed into this process – the new programme won’t launch until 2014.

In the meantime, just another ‘heads up’ that a lot of the deadline for project applications under the current programme will be hitting us early next year.  Please check the relevant websites for information.

Edinburgh November 2011

And so to Edinburgh…  A bit different from the same time last year when those of us who made it up for the British Council’s Education UK Partnership Conference promptly found we couldn’t get home quite so quicky due to the snow storms!  Thankfully, there was only gale force winds this year, but that didn’t stop me enjoying the wonder of the city.

Robin Bew of The Economist delivering his state of the nation address

The Conference this year was mainly around the opportunity for the British Council to map out their new service offer to current Education UK Partnership member colleges, universities and boarding schools.  Rather than the annual subscriptiong we’ve been used to paying, sometimes for services we may not have fully used, the new offer will be services on a ‘pay as you go’ basis.  There was a specific early morning FE session yesterday which gave the opportunity for those delegates from the sector to talk to colleagues from the British Council about their concerns for the new services or to ask any questions.  One of the main ones, I think, will be about the pricing structure.  Given that universities are operating on a much bigger scale than many FE colleges it will be interesting to see if a sliding cost scale might be applied to reflect this.  I certainly think it will appeal to colleges if there is this consideration.

A couple of years ago I did a contract with Education UK Partnership as a FE Adviser and some of the things we were starting to do for the sector had real promise.  I think revisiting some of those intiatives will ensure that the new service offer will be of real benefit to FE and ensure an understanding of what the FE sector can offer internationally, not just to potential students and businesses abroad, but also to the British Council in-country staff who, quite often, have little or no understanding of FE and therefore are unable to promote it properly.

Networking conference dinner - colleagues from Bradford College, Pearson and Leeds City College


The conference was, as always, an opportunity to meet up with FE colleagues, although we did seem a bit thinner on the ground than in previous years…..  Is this a sign that the British Council have an uphill task with FE?

The Conference dinner was an opportunity for FE colleagues to relax and discuss informally some of the issues facing them at the moment, both in terms of domestic FE issues and international challenges.

And last but not least…..  At the conference this week I was talking to someone from a College who said he was replacing a colleague who should have been attending.  His colleague was out in Trinidad and Tobago on a UKTI export mission along with reps from other FE colleges.  Whilst out there he had a freak accident and was badly injured.  He’s still out there recovering, but hopefully will be back in the UK soon.  After the accident an International Manager from another UK FE college took the initiative and escorted the injured FE rep to hospital, went to visit him, helped contact work/family in the UK and then also staffed his own College exhibition stand, but the other injured guy’s College stand!!!  I don’t want to name names, but you know who you are!  It goes to show how faith in human kindness can be restored.  S – you are a star!  A – I hope you’re better soon!

Till next time…..

International delegates at the Gala Dinner

It was so manic last week at the conference, that my blogging took a back-seat, so apologies for that.  I’m not even sure that anyone is reading this.  Perhaps this is just for my own amusement/sanity?

What I’d like to do, when I’ve got some time, is to put on here a series of ‘how to’ guides.  I hope that might be useful to colleagues in FE working internationally.  At the end of the day, the more ‘sharing of best practise’ the better for the sector.

The main thing for us international spods at the conference last week was John Hayes’ announcement that he wants AoC to work with the Department on developing a Global FE Strategy.  Good news all round for those of us working internationally who have recognised the growing importance of internationalising the sector and that it’s not just about international student recruitment.

AoC Student of the Year Award winners

Our other resounding success was the session on ‘Breaking into the Indian Market’.  AoC are planning to open an office in India supporting and promoting the interests of those UK colleges signing up to the initiative.  I think we’ve exceeded the minimum number of colleges we were hoping for which is fantastic news!  It’s not just for colleges based in England either.  As AoC is part of the UK Council of Colleges we’ve extended it out and I think we’ve got a Northern Irish and a Welsh College on board.

The AoC Gala Dinner was another outstanding evening.  John Mountford, AoC’s International Director, Ayesha Williams, AoC’s International Charter Officer and I all hosted tables for International delegates or those involved in International work in the sector.  Our table had a great time and all swapped seats throughout the night so that we got a chance to talk to everyone.  First class entertainment was provided by students from Kidderminster College (they would blow X-Factor contestants out of the water!) and awards were presented in the Student of the Year award.

The After Dinner party upstairs was fab this year.  There was a casino staffed by students from Blackpool & The Fylde College and there were a load of pool tables and table football.  They went down a storm!  It’s amazing how competitive people can get!!!

American Association of Community College Trustees v Colleges Northern Ireland!

So, back to earth this week with a bit of a crash and burn…  Late nights and early mornings and not much sleep means I started with the second cold in a month……

But loads to do.  Finished the presentation that John Mountford and I will be doing at the British Council’s Education UK Partnership Conference in Edinburgh next week.  Must contact Janet Spavin at Loughborough College and Barbara Brodigan from Doncaster College who are also contributing fantastic partnership case studies to our session!  If you’re coming to the conference and in FE please come along to our session on Tuesday morning 11.30am.

I’m also working on a EU Jean Monnet proposal for EUPROVET, which hopefully will provide some very targeted funding to provide some EU wide Peer Learning Activities/seminars to share practise and look for solutions to issues surrounding early school leaving, the quality of training for FE practitioners and leadership and management in FE.  I had a look at the budget yesterday.  I get quite a lot of satisfaction about compiling a EU budget.  Eurospod again!

And, I’ll be on a flying visit to Belfast tomorrow for Ecorys’ EU Lifelong Learning Programme’s Thematic Networking Group event.

Ending with a pic of my lovely AoC Create mug, which I purloined from one of the stands at the conference last week.

Not exactly Tea and FE - more Latte and FE!