From education to employment

2020 – an educational odyssey?

Dr Paul Phillips CBE, Principal and Chief Executive, Weston College Group

It doesn’t really matter – students need us to move on 

In August 1980 I entered my career in education, or at least I began to learn the trade of teaching. Now some forty years later I reflect on what has happened over these years but perhaps more poignantly what has occurred in the last ten days. I would never have believed or anticipated what I have witnessed. At a simplistic level, I might have put it down to COVID-19, but at a more analytical level I am deeply saddened because it has signalled a culture of blame, indifference and it begs one key question: Is COVID19 an excuse – or has it just highlighted all the old bureaucracy and lack of responsiveness that must be now overcome?

In Mathematics, when teaching probability theory, we talk of permutations and combinations, and the examination results issue has tested that concept to the extreme. The year 2020 will go down in history as the year of anticipation and prediction, but the years 2021 to 2025 will probably go down as the years of reality and benchmarking. Either way, it is likely that within twelve months we will start to see the answer to whether grade inflation occurred and moreover the repercussions. Deep down the true educators already know the answer, but there are a lot of happy exam candidates out there now and good luck to every one of them – and well done to everyone who supported them.

We are not very good with change really are we?

And yet our students and the country need us right now, as career makers, to raise student morale from the ashes. As FE leaders, – we now have to change our focus to one of inspiration and catch up. I think it is the latter that we need and now the time for radical change. There are lots of positive and exciting developments out there – but who is stopping to consider the current position? We need four months to catch up, so why not have that four months when our learners restart in September/October? Why is their next academic year not able to run from September 2020 to December 2021 and then January to December thereafter. Is this also the time to consider the length of degree courses – could they not possibly be delivered in 2 years rather than 3. Imagine the effect on student loans! Should HE and FE together create new joint models of learning? Should our sector be more forceful in telling government what is needed for maths and English skills development? We need to work together and be bold and confident with our aspirations – and remember our core goal – of putting students first.

The FE environment is very special

I have worked in every sector but Further Education is to my mind exceptional. We will grow the new penicillin and we will be the new petri dish and why? Because we will grab the skills mantle, as students need to feel we are leading the charge. My college is Weston College – we are open, the safety measures are in place, learning remains innovative and entrepreneurial, and employers need us to harness future talent to build back better. Colleges across the UK are open just like us and we are ready to thrive again. My old Nokia phone held together with elastic bands is out and I’ve now got an iPhone – talk about a digital transformation in the last few months!! So come on, let’s stop blaming others, work with sector innovators, and the Government – this time with a better sharing and understanding of agendas! It’s time to draw the line and move on. Students and the economy are depending on us – I’m certainly ready who’s with me?

Dr Paul Phillips CBE, Principal and Chief Executive, Weston College Group

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