The Further Education (FE) Commissioner, Shelagh Legrave joined officials from the Department for Education, FE college Principals, governance professionals and Chairs of college boards for the day at Sunderland College’s Bede Campus.

About 70 delegates met to hear and learn from business and education leaders – and students. Speakers representing industry, multi-academy trusts, colleges, universities, finance, housing and law firms shared their insights about strategic approaches in the
people and culture space.

Ellen Thinnesen, OBE, Chief Executive of Education Partnership North East (EPNE) which includes Sunderland College, had organised the day along with her colleagues. She said: “It was a privilege to host so many key leaders from the FE sector for an informative and thought-provoking day.

“Our carefully curated programme was aimed at encouraging attendees to think about key topics the further education sector needs to consider in planning future workforce and people strategy.”

The conference was part of the Just One Thing programme which is designed and delivered by the FE Commissioner’s team to help and support college Principals, Chairs and governance professionals working in the FE sector.

Ellen added: “I’m grateful to all speakers who took time out of their busy diaries to lead important discussions around effective human capital strategies.

“The FE sector is not alone in facing national and regional change and in needing to adapt to new environments- it’s vitally important that people and culture remain our top priority.

“But as well as hearing brilliant and provocative speakers such as Dr Paul Redmond, an author, researcher and expert, on the future of work from the University of Liverpool, we also heard from some of our amazing students who talked about what sort of college culture is conducive to learning.

“At EPNE we have a culture of strong values which are embedded in every part of the organisation. Our people make us who we are and our values support staff and students to be the best they can be.”

The conference began with an address from Shelagh Legrave, who has been FE Commissioner since 2021. Shelagh set the scene by raising the importance of people and culture within further education college strategy.

Other speakers on the day included John McCabe, Chief Executive of the North East Chamber who spoke passionately about the needs and ambitions of the region and the importance role colleges play. Claire Jones, Nissan’s Head of Skills, Brendan Tapping, CEO of Bishop Chadwick Trust and Louise Bassett, CEO of Gentoo provided fascinating insights into people strategy and practice within their own organisations.

Louise Basset, CEO of Gentoo said: “Sunderland College is the North East’s highest performing college for student achievement, and I continue to be inspired by Ellen and her team’s leadership and passion for investing and developing people. It was a pleasure to share Gentoo’s work on people and culture and learn from the experience of other Sunderland businesses.”

Emma Moody and Hilary du Randt, both partners at law firm Womble Bond Dickinson, led a session giving insight into recent court cases concerning workers’ rights and changes in law affecting workforces.

James Stuart, Chair at EPNE, closed the day with an address entitled from the ‘battlefield to the boardroom’, which reflected the lessons and skills he’d learned as an officer in the British Army and how they could be translated into boardroom behaviours.

Conference delegate Catherine Sykes, Director of Governance at Hull College, said: “The day was very well organised and also enjoyable and instructive. I learned a lot and laughed a lot!

“I think the highlight of the day for me was the talk by Paul Redmond. He made you think about workforce culture and how the generations have a different attitude to work and expectations of the working environment. But he was also very, very funny.”

Education Partnership North East (EPNE) incorporates Sunderland College, Northumberland College and Hartlepool Sixth Form College.

Why Education Partnership North East (EPNE)?

Highly commended - Employer of the Year, Sunderland Echo Portfolio Awards 2019

Engagement with Employers - Association of Colleges (AoC) Beacon Award 2017

(Sunderland College On-programme Survey 2017)

Selected by DfE for 2021 T Level pilot to deliver the new high-quality technical qualifications.

98% overall employer satisfaction - Employer Survey 2018/19