From education to employment

No Paradise at Present – We are in the midst of crisis and everyone is examining life differently

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

It’s a Wednesday afternoon and I am sat in my study penning this article. I used to say to my staff almost ironically “Welcome to another day in Paradise.” Oh, how I wish I could be in a position to do that now, but we are in the midst of crisis and everyone is examining life differently.

My staff have been tremendous, their attitude of learner first has pervaded every aspect of the organisation. Am I impressed…very and proud of their can do attitude, they realise it is not just about the teaching and learning, it is about the mental health of everyone and working to be part of a community. So many people are rolling up their sleeves and just getting things done, I love the entrepreneurship, the talent, the calculated risk and all the different support networks that are springing up. I am also impressed; I was always being told that we were way behind the school/academy sector on digital learning. I have been trying to remember who said that to me because they were so blinkered. Our teaching and learning is alive, it’s not about marking pieces of work online. No wonder some of the sixth form learners from the local academies want to get into our online systems. This is where I want Government to come and see us operating in a crisis. We are not unique, but I definitely reckon we can wow in terms of what we are achieving.

FE through and through

I am FE through and through, I have worked in all the educational sectors and there is nothing to compare us to. FE leads, others follow but it does make my blood boil when I see money being provided for schools over Easter. No mention of the College sector is there, how much more does Government want in terms of the proof of what we do? We are working throughout Easter, we are converting resources for the NHS, we are delivering training, many of our learners are volunteering as well as staff qualified to support the NHS. Time I think to do some benchmarking, let’s deal with the facts not the rhetoric.

In fairness however (rant over now) all educational establishments face major change especially with our clear brief of educating the future workforce. I have seen first-hand the stress and mental health that the new assessment changes are causing, but good things are happening and suddenly we are all digital experts. Well, I can do Skype, Zoom etc and for those who know me it’s a giant step for mankind. I have also had time to think about the future for our sector and I have no qualms regarding change. This crisis has brought out the best and worst in people and we have all had to make difficult decisions in regard to staffing, planned investment and dealing with learners who will have been affected like us by the current situation. I envisage a smaller college, more dependence on digital, focussed even more than before with change management like never before. The latter worries me as now every leader will need to consider the future and paint a picture for their staff. People generally don’t deal well with change but this time we need to grab it with open arms as it is our future and remember we lead, others follow. Some in my organisation will not enjoy the magnitude of change, equally there will be no taking of prisoners.

So, there is already some clarity on the horizon and its business as abnormal! Treasure those staff, welcome all those organisations that are supporting us, put your head above the parapet and continue to do our utmost for learners, the community and the businesses we serve. A few months ago, we built a Health and Active Living Centre, a few years ago we built a conference centre… I never dreamed or thought they would become NHS resources for this crisis. Our combined authority in the West of England, North Somerset Council and a big bank loan made it possible…to support the NHS at a time like this is the very least any of us can do.

My governors, my leadership team and my staff continue to excel, with a lot of luck we will soon be opening a new chapter. Very soon I hope our Prime Minister Boris will be well again…. I think he gets Further Education more than most. The new chapter I hear you ask?

It is in our hands but what about “Another Year in Paradise.”

To all my colleagues and friends across the sector be safe and never lose your tenacity of approach.

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

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