College groups sign a Strategic Alliance Agreement to shape a new approach to Governance

Two regional further and higher education college groups have formalised a Strategic Alliance Agreement incorporating a new corporate governance approach for ‘place-based’ skills strategy.

Education Partnership North East & Education Training Collective

Earlier this year, Education Partnership North East (EPNE) and the Education Training Collective (Etc.) announced a strategic skills partnership aligned to Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs) from across the North East, North of Tyne and Tees Valley areas, specifically linked to developing and delivering technical training within retrofit, digital and modern methods of construction.

Now, following the ratification of the Skills and Post-16 Education Act in April 2022 to level up and drive economic growth across the country, EPNE and Etc. have formally signed the Strategic Alliance, including a clear intention to reshape ‘business as usual governance’.

This new and unique approach will see the Governors and Executive Leaders jointly and regularly collaborating outside of formalised Board meetings to shape and evolve a regional skills strategy contextualised for employers and the local communities served by each college group.

James Stuart, EPNE’s Chair of Governors, said: “This valued added approach to collective governance extends beyond the formality of corporation meetings and is a model rarely seen in the further education sector.

“I am delighted our boards are collaborating to ensure an ambitious new approach to regional skills strategy.”

Stuart Blackett, Etc.’s Chair of Governors, said: “This new and ambitious approach sends a very clear message that Further Education Governors, are at the heart of the skills system and are very well placed to shape and set the future of skills strategy for our region and communities.”

Recognising strength comes through strategic collaboration, EPNE and Etc. will work together to drive economic recovery and growth by giving local people training opportunities to secure well-paid jobs in key industries with skills gaps.

Utilising an innovative sector-leading approach which is fundamentally different to traditional skills collaborations, a new curriculum will be co-designed and delivered which is aligned to the respective Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs) of the Tees Valley, North East LEP, and North of Tyne geographical areas, specifically linked to digital, renewable and modern construction.

By boosting the quality of education on offer through flexible study options including Sector Work Based Academies (SWAPs) and Skills Bootcamps, the partnership will further prioritise local needs and local people, transforming the skills and training landscape.

Tees Valley colleges secure £2.5m funding to bridge skills gaps

Colleges across the Tees Valley have joined forces with North-east businesses to tackle a widening skills gap after securing £2.5m of government funding.

The move is part of a drive to help people launch careers in key industries, upskill the workforce through innovative projects and boost economic growth across the region.

A £2.5m grant allocated by the Department for Education will provide equipment and staff development training for a host of initiatives to be delivered at Redcar and Cleveland College, Stockton Riverside College, NETA Training (all part of the Education Training Collective), along with Darlington College, Middlesbrough College, Hartlepool College, Hartlepool Sixth Form College, and the Learning Curve Group and will involve partnering with the North East Chamber of Commerce, which has been working closely with thousands of businesses across the region.

Education Training Collective sites

Investment is being targeted to address the region’s specific skills needs, which have been identified as priority sectors in Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs).

Research has identified a host of unfilled opportunities in sectors such as green energy, the digital industry, construction and health and social care, areas that are carrying thousands of vacancies for skilled staff.

Darlington College’s strategic projects and skills manager and LSIF project lead Alan Jones said: “After many months of planning I’m thrilled our partnership has been awarded this important funding to support local skills improvement in the Tees Valley.

“Working with key local employers and the support of the North East Chamber of Commerce, we have chosen priority projects which will best serve the region and we can’t wait to get started.”

North East Chamber of Commerce assistant director of policy Rachel Anderson said: “LSIPs provide us with the opportunity to shape the future of the region’s skills and talent pipeline, so it’s excellent for our colleges and universities to have received support to offer more training opportunities across key sectors.

“The Chamber has worked with over 3,000 businesses to ensure the correct training provision is in place to meet skills needs and opportunities and to ensure we avoid gaps in the future.”

Education Training Collective (Etc.) chief executive and group principal Grant Glendinning said: “This welcome investment in local skills projects will enable us to build on our commitment to meet employers’ skill demands, particularly in the green and health sectors, and in doing so, develop a pipeline of local talent.

“The addition of industrial size training facilities at Redcar and Cleveland College to simulate hydrogen creation, application and use, as well as enhanced welding, pipefitting and fabrication facilities, an upskilled scaffolding offer at NETA Training, and exciting developments in health at Stockton Riverside College, will further build on the specialist training opportunities available in the Tees Valley in readiness to respond to inward investment and economic growth in the region and beyond.”

Middlesbrough College’s deputy principal and chief executive Ben Robinson said: “We are delighted to see the exciting collaborative work between colleges and businesses in the Tees Valley recognised and look forward to the state of the art facilities this will bring to our site in health care, net-zero technology and modern methods of construction.

“The developments will be crucial in addressing the skills shortages and employment gaps within our region and will provide our learners with the resources required to develop industry-essential occupational and soft skills to contribute to their and the region’s future economic prosperity.”

Darlington College principal and chief executive David Gartland added: “We are so pleased our submission has been recognised as meeting the needs of the local labour market. Investment in the delivery of health, social care, renewable energies and green construction will benefit us all across the Tees Valley.

“This renewed focus on skills delivery will allow boot camps and apprenticeships to flourish thanks to new investment in our equipment and the upskilling of our teaching staff. Students of all ages will benefit from this investment and it couldn’t have come at a better time, with so many jobs becoming available across the Tees Valley in these key skills sectors.”

Darren Hankey, principal and chief executive, Hartlepool College of Further Education, added: “To see that the collaborative hard work that has gone into securing this investment has paid off is incredible. An opportunity to further support countless organisations with recruitment, retention and re-skilling of staff is most welcome to the Tees Valley. Hartlepool College of Further Education is well known for its skill set in producing future workforces for sectors such as health and social care, construction, and engineering – boosting the skills in digitalisation and green energy. All of the equipment and proposed skills techniques that have been added to the LSIF have been designed by employers to ensure their needs are met. This will allow people to gain the fundamental skills that are required to build a career in the Tees Valley and address the real needs that emerged from the LSIP report.”

Principal of Sunderland College and Hartlepool Sixth Form Toni Rhodes said: “We are delighted to be working with other providers in the Tees Valley to address collectively the local skills needs identified through the LSIP, ensuring Tees Valley residents have the skills required to access local jobs.”

Chief executive of Learning Curve Group Brenda McLeish added: “I’m delighted that Learning Curve Group has been able to support the development of the North East’s Local Skills Improvement Plan and is a player in the team of providers delivering against the plan in the region. Together, we’ve highlighted some essential skills for the North-east, and our combined effective delivery will set our region up for future success and prosperity.”

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said the investment was aimed at boosting local industry, building people’s skills and ultimately futureproofing the economy and the career prospects of the next generation.

She said: “Our local skills projects will bring together regional organisations, businesses and education providers to respond to the specific needs of employers, building an increasingly skilled workforce. Thousands more people can now gain the skills they need to secure good jobs closer to home.”

Demand for green skills is set to rise in particular as the government works to create energy security and the UK heads towards net zero.

The transition to a green and sustainable future will support hundreds of thousands of exciting green job opportunities in areas such as heat pump installation, retro-fitting energy efficient materials, solar panel upkeep, electric vehicle manufacturing and charging maintenance, as well as environmental consultancy.

Health and social care has a huge appetite for skilled staff to improve access to high quality care and cut waiting lists.

Bede opens its ‘Mark White Annexe’ making space for up to 200 more students

Describing opening Bede Sixth Form College’s new £2.4m development as the proudest day of his life is a bold statement from Mark White CBE DL.

After a career littered with accolades, it shows the level of affection Mark has for the college in Billingham, where he started what would be a 27-year commitment to further education in the Tees Valley.

Bede has now recognised his contribution to the college with the official launch of its all-new Mark White Annexe at the college site on Marsh House Avenue.

“This feels like an extraordinary honour,” said Mark, former chair of governors at the Education Training Collective (Etc.). “It means the world to me.”

Funded, in part, by the Department for Education’s Post-16 Capacity Fund, the annexe has been created in response to an expected demographic increase in 16 to 19-year-olds, making room for an additional 200 students at Bede.

Those joining the college now have access to the all-new facility with nine new classrooms, specialist suites and breakout spaces.

The self-contained three-storey facility includes a dedicated learning area for those students with a particular interest in the science and pharmaceutical sectors, a health and social care wing and bespoke media suite.

Bede’s principal Patrick Jordan said: “We are incredibly proud and excited to see work on the development complete and to now be welcoming returning students and new starters to learn in fantastic state-of-the-art facilities.

“This welcome investment in our facilities enables us to accommodate more students and also offered the exciting opportunity to create new and innovative learning environments, designed to meet key-sector skill demands.”

Of naming the annexe after Mark White, he added: “Mark has long been a part of Bede’s blood and so it seemed only fitting that we dedicate this space to him.”

Attending the annexe launch, Councillor Bob Cook, Leader of Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council, said: “It’s so important that we help children and young people reach their potential from early years through to further education, and that we do all we can to provide them with high quality learning environments fit for a modern education.

“We want them all to be educated in modern buildings like this wonderful new facility, and the sixth form’s increased capacity will bring more opportunities for them to learn new skills in a purpose-built, inspirational space.”

Mark White stepped back from his role as chair of the Etc. governing board last summer, after 27 years in governing roles across the college group which includes Bede Sixth Form College, NETA Training, Redcar and Cleveland College, Stockton Riverside College and The Skills Academy (Billingham).

A keen volunteer, working with multiple organisations across the Tees Valley and nationwide, Mark was named in the King’s Birthday Honours List to receive a CBE early this year for his services to further education. He is also a Deputy Lieutenant of County Durham.

Stuart Blackett, Patrick Jordan, Grant Glendinning and Mark White

Meet the 21 engineering scholars getting a head start with bp

The future could quite literally be in the hands of 21 students selected to take part in an industry-backed scholarship designed to help meet the skills needs ready for the transition to green energy.

Energy giant bp has teamed up with Redcar and Cleveland College to create the bespoke programme now welcoming its first batch of students, offering a potential leg-up on to the career ladder and a training allowance as they study.

“After spending the year planning, it’s hugely exciting to see the first students joining the programme,” said Sarah Ryan, bp’s social performance advisor for the UK. “Teesside has the potential to become a world-class, low carbon energy hub, but needs the talent and skills to do so.

“We are proud to continue investing in young people in Teesside and provide the training and qualifications they need to access high-quality low carbon jobs that will help sustain the region for decades to come.”

A flagship course for the college in its drive to prepare people for the green, renewable and low carbon industries of the future, the Teesside Clean Energy Technician scholarship is being delivered at Redcar and Cleveland College’s all new Clean Energy Education Hub.

Announced early this year, the unique opportunity that comes with a £100 weekly term-time bursary, and primarily aimed at school leavers aged 16 to 18, saw up to 100 hopeful applicants vying for a place.

Redcar and Cleveland College’s head of engineering, David Laycock, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for these young people who will not only develop the knowledge and skills of their future trade but will also have the backing of a global employer, and all of the potential advantages that this could bring.”

Anya, 17, is among those selected to take part. Keen to build a career in greener and cleaner energy, she said: “This is definitely the future and so for me the bp scholarship is ideal.”


Hearing about the programme at a Women in Engineering event at the college, she said: “It sounded ideal as it is a chance to learn in a practical hands-on environment and it will be on my CV that I have the experience of being a bp scholar.”

Looking forward to getting started, Luke, 17, of Hartlepool, said: “Clean energy is the future and definitely where I want to be in terms of my career. I am super excited by this opportunity.”

While Alfie, 16, from Saltburn, added: “I believe renewable energy is the way forward. I was over the moon when I found out I had a scholarship place, there is nothing that even comes close to this opportunity.”

By working alongside bp, the two-year scholarship has been designed to ensure students’ knowledge and skills meet the needs of developments in hydrogen, carbon capture and green industries.

This week scholarship students were introduced to the college with a dedicated launch event where they met representatives from bp and were officially handed their overalls and PPE.

The college’s head of engineering David said: “We recognise the part we have to play in equipping school leavers and adult learners with the skills to meet industry needs and maximise their chances of benefitting from the jobs of the future. To do this, having the backing of employers such as bp behind us is integral. We want to give all our students the chance to develop the qualities to help them build meaningful and skilled careers.”

Gateshead-based training provider, Innersummit, joins the Education Training Collective

As part of growth and development plans, a group of Tees Valley colleges and training providers has acquired a Gateshead-based training provider with significant reach into the professional services apprenticeship market.

Chris Andreou and Grant Glendinning
Chris Andreou and Grant Glendinning

The Education Training Collective (Etc.), an ambitious and dynamic college group which includes Bede Sixth Form College, NETA Training Group, Redcar and Cleveland College, Stockton Riverside College and The Skills Academy, has completed on the acquisition of Innersummit, a boutique training consultancy with a 20-year history of supporting companies UK-wide with apprenticeship delivery.

This acquisition further strengthens the Etc. business to business offer, and will see the organisation not only widen the portfolio of courses and apprenticeships it can offer current employer partners, but also drive its reach into the wider North East region and beyond.

Grant Glendinning, chief executive at the Education Training Collective, said: “This acquisition is the culmination of a lengthy due diligence project, and is something we are naturally very excited about being in a position to share.

“In the last year, the leadership team and governors have really put a magnifying glass over the Etc., identifying our priority areas for focus – this has resulted in the launch of our new Clean Energy Education Hub at Redcar and Cleveland College, the addition of the new £2.4m annexe at Bede Sixth Form College, we have great plans in the pipeline for NETA, alongside the ongoing works at Stockton Riverside College, and now we are enhancing our apprenticeship and commercial training offer with the addition of Innersummit to our college group.”

Chris Andreou, managing director at Innersummit, added: “When the opportunity arose for Innersummit Ltd to become part of the Education Training Collective, a larger organisation with a reputation for being an excellent employer, and an organisation which is committed to providing high-quality training and development for its staff, students and communities, it was a discussion I was keen to take further.  It is clear that there is a match between the intent of both organisations – who essentially just want to support individuals and businesses to achieve their full potential.

“Both organisations bring a mutually complementary offer to the table, and we are looking forward to working together to ensure training and skills offered meet the needs of businesses across the North East and beyond.”

As part of the acquisition implementation plan, the organisations will now work closely to ensure a smooth transition of operations, working with businesses across the region to expand its reach and deliver high-quality training and development programmes that meet their needs – both current and future.

College staff make “Time for Teesside”

From clearing litter to transforming a sensory garden, hundreds of volunteers headed out into the community in a college group’s giant effort to make “Time for Teesside”.

Around 250 members of staff from the colleges that make up the Education Training Collective (Etc.), took time away from their day jobs to embark on 21 projects for local good causes.

“The idea was to give something back to our communities in a real practical way,” said Etc. chief executive and group principal, Grant Glendinning. “What better way to make a real impact than rolling up our sleeves and giving our time to offer a helping hand in whatever way we can?”

Sourcing projects across the Tees Valley, volunteers carried out litter picks at the Tees Barrage, Redcar beach, Ingleby Barwick and Billingham, and volunteer days were spent at Daisy Chain and Teesside Hospice charity shops, Thornaby Church Baby Bank, Norton Community Centre, Vision 25, Low Grange Community Centre, Dogs Trust Darlington and Maxi’s Mates.

Linking in with Middlesbrough FC Foundation, construction and maintenance challenges took place at The Finlay Cooper Centre in North Ormesby, North Ormesby Resource Centre, and the Herlingshaw Centre, Middlesbrough, with further projects at Billingham Environmental Link, St Benedict’s Primary School in Redcar, Friends of True Lovers Walk, Yarm, Piper Court Care Home, Stockton, and a fundraising dog walk.

Helping muck in with a transformation of the outdoor space at The Finlay Cooper Centre, Grant said: “The diversity of the voluntary activities taking place was fantastic and a real reflection of the incredible work that goes on by amazing organisations right here on our doorstep.”

Keen to make a difference, he said: “The benefits of the day were two-fold, this was a chance to help others and play an active part in our communities, but it was also an opportunity for staff to do something completely different and spend time with colleagues who they may not have worked with directly before.”

The Etc. incorporates Bede Sixth Form College, NETA Training, Redcar and Cleveland College, Stockton Riverside College, and The Skills Academy, and together the teams put in approximately 2000 voluntary hours between them.

At North Ormesby Resource Centre a team of Etc. volunteers helped to revamp a sensory garden.

Centre manager Jackie Reilly said: “We have a unit here for people with dementia. The Etc. team worked throughout the day to help us create a sensory garden and what a fantastic job they did. This will now enable our service-users to enjoy the outdoors in a safe and tranquil environment, using touch and smell to hopefully help bring precious memories to them and promote mental health and wellbeing.”

With plans to make Time for Teesside an annual event, Grant said: “This is the beginning of what will hopefully become a bit of a movement for Teesside. We hope that next year other members of the business community will consider joining us.”

Changing lives

Etc. chair and financial leader Stuart talks helping to build skills for the future

Doing something that makes a real lasting difference to people’s lives has got to be the best part of life on the governing board of the Education Training Collective (Etc.).

“It doesn’t get much better than that,” says Stuart Blackett, who took the reins as chair of the board last summer.

Stuart Blackett

One year in the Etc. hot seat and he beams with pride for the Teesside-based college group, its dedicated staff, and thousands of learners.

On the back of a string of a summer success, for individuals and teams across the group, he says: “It’s the type of place where you run out of superlatives.”

The Education Training Collective comprises four colleges in the Tees Valley, Stockton Riverside College, Redcar and Cleveland College, Bede Sixth Form College, The Skills Academy (Billingham), and engineering training provider, NETA Training.

Together the Etc. sites offer everything from vocational courses and A levels to apprenticeship training, higher education, commercial and bespoke employer-led training.

It’s a world that just a few years ago Stuart admits he knew little about. Today he describes it as, “exciting and challenging – but only in a good way!”

Following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Mark White CBE DL, was always going to be one of those challenges, as he says: “Everybody knows Mark, or knows of him, because he is an “education-lifer.”

Considering himself somewhat unknown in education circles, it initially felt like “big shoes to fill” for the Wynyard dad-of-two, but today he says: “I now realise it is simply a case of different shoes.”

A chartered accountant by profession and chief financial officer at Railpen, Stuart brings his own unique set of strategic skills and expertise to the role. He values the part his fellow board members play, each bringing a wealth of experience to the group, among them vice chair of the board Dot Smith, who is also something of an “education-lifer”.

Appointing new Etc. chief executive and group principal, Grant Glendinning, last summer was one of the first big jobs under Stuart’s leadership.

He says: “Getting Grant in was a great achievement and it’s great to see how he has picked up the baton from Phil Cook and has continued to take us forward. I am really pleased and excited about the future.”

With big plans in the pipeline both for the Etc. and across the Tees Valley, there’s much to look forward to.

Stuart adds: “With investment coming into the area from the likes of Teesworks, the freeport and the Treasury in Darlington, it feels like we are on the cusp of something really special that could be transformative for the area.”

Recent visits to the group’s campuses from the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, and Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove, as well as industry leaders, employers and our local MPs, is further testament to the part the college group has to play.

“In education we are at the heart of our community,” says Stuart. “The Tees Valley has been one of the most deprived areas in the country and we need to change that, the best way to do this is through education.”

As a dad of two young boys himself, he has even more reason to be passionate about the opportunities ahead, but he is also quick to point out that colleges are about more than your 16-to-18-year-old cohort. Colleges are changing the lives of adults too.

The key to continuing to get that right is a complex mix. He explains it involves looking to the future, not just the next two or three years, but what does 2040 look like? The college group must also be agile and adapt, while simultaneously continuing to deliver in the here and now.

“As Dot says, ‘it is standards, standards, standards’,” he says. “We have a duty to ensure our colleges are the best they possibly can be for our learners. We have to do the day job.”

At the Etc. that has included a recent £11.7m capital investment in facilities, made possible with funding from the Department for Education’s T Level Capital Funding Grant, DfE Post-16 Capacity Fund and the Redcar Town Deal Fund.

Completed works include the revamped facilities at Redcar and Cleveland College, the creation of their £3.2m Clean Energy Education Hub and a £2.4m annexe, making room for an additional 200 students at Bede. Work is now underway on a £2.8 refurb at Stockton Riverside College and there are also ambitious plans for NETA.

“There’s been a lot going on,” said Stuart with a smile. It clearly hasn’t put him off. Not a fan of hierarchy, he gives all the credit to others.

“This isn’t my day job, I already have a career. It sounds cliché but, for me, this is my way of giving something back.

“The truth is, I get a lot back out of being in that chair. It doesn’t feel like work to me, this is something I look forward to, this is the fun bit. When you add in the fact that we are we are making a real difference here, well there seems little that can be more worthy.”