December Overview – Mike Blakeley

Dec 1, 2023

Hello one and all

So where did that year go……. ?

The build-up to Christmas is one of excitement and anticipation.  Roll on the endless Christmas parties and festive-themed events, early December is truly special. It’s possibly one of the only times in the year we all power down and find a little time to relax.

When Oscar Wilde wrote, “To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect”, I doubt for any single moment he had any idea how we at Exeter College would draw on that quote. So as the tinsel started coming out and the Christmas festivities were beginning to get underway, here at Exeter College, we showed that little bit of intellect and wondered if we were about to get a special festive visit of our very own….

Exactly a year ago today the Office for Standards in Education, Children Services and Skills, better known as OFSTED paid us a visit.  We hadn’t been inspected since 2014 so we knew we would be seen at some point.  A 9-year hiatus was a huge compliment as they felt as an OFSTED outstanding college with strong success we didn’t really need a visit. With an inspection team numbering nearly 2 football teams worth and a week of review you know you are in for a long week and rightly so.  It is a true testament to the entire team at Exeter College that we walked away with Outstanding, a rare accolade in this day an age and the first college to retain its grading post OFSTED.  This was also the first inspection we had undertaken with reference to our work on the local skills agenda.  3 inspectors, 50 interviews, and a deep dive into our employer support, no easy task. Again, we took top grades.  What a gift this was …..

So why do I share this story?  The commonest words I hear in my role is “Skills”.  OFSTED have shared this view by incorporating this into the inspection framework. Year after year it becomes more of a talking point and is never far away when I chat with employers both big and small.  It feels like the skills challenges or skills gaps are more evident and the awareness of our need for change gathers pace.  Only last week I spoke at a national conference in London and we shared data that shows the construction industry is under massive pressure without change with regards to skills. The numbers are eye-watering. We are forecasted to see 250,000 vacancies in the sector by 2027.

Collaboration is at the heart of the solution.  Exeter College has put it at the heart of what we do and it is stated as one of our 3 key values. As a result of this we have made significant inroads into the local skills gap here, growing construction to a point where we are full to bursting. Over 600 Apprentices are involved in construction and rising.  This is a 3 fold increase from 2017 and quite unique in terms of the scale of our operation.  We are committed to supporting the industry’s needs and will continue to evolve our offer to meet the new challenges ahead.

CESW’s strength is its breadth and commitment to supporting construction.  As an outsider looking in, I can see the brilliant people who want to make a difference.  I was delighted to work with the board to shape a new and innovative approach to skills.  Acting as solution-focused, cross-themed skills panel I’m sure we will start to make a difference.  Essential to our success will be joining up initiatives and resources for common good. We are blessed here in the SW with some amazing initiatives. Let’s make them even better.  Already we have untangled a few of the barriers and embarked on initiatives to bring effective training and support to CESW members.  Using the recipe of success we have here at Exeter College, I’m looking forward to supporting the region’s skills challenges in a different and exciting way.


If you are interested in joining the CESW Skills Advisory Panel please don’t hesitate to drop Mike an email on

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