From education to employment

Time to grasp the nettle

In the days of the Learning and Skills Council we viewed the changes introduced at that time as quite draconian and wondered how we would cope.

Oh, to go back to those days, when the skills agenda was a high priority of Government and the focus was on delivering high-quality training with reward for growth and a feeling that this was a unified agenda!

When I look back, yes, there were issues that needed to be tackled, but the Skills Funding Agency and Education Funding Agency brought about the rigour which was required alongside the Ofsted regime.

It wasn’t easy, but nevertheless it was a structured approach, albeit with some reward.

By contrast, today’s situation is far from clear, with an alarming lack of evidence for protection of funding post-16.

There is a limit, however, to what can be legitimately achieved. We face an agenda that now calls the whole skills agenda into question.

The landscape at the moment is still unclear and shrouded in mystery. I wonder who intends to clarify the position and when?

The actual expertise is within our sector, but we do need to showcase our work with apprenticeships, maths and English, HE and FE and so on.

The horizon may well change, but the different regions of the country need to start shouting about what they do, what they contribute to the economy and why the solution should be regionally based.

This is not, by the way, about devolution. On the contrary, it is about making impact and showing how all institutions could provide a combined solution for the future.

We must not have a one-size-fits-all solution – that would be disastrous and actually would work against the ethos of the new Ofsted Inspection Framework.

In many ways we need to look at a ‘community consortia’ model for regions. My own College is in the South West and I believe quite strongly that the governance, management and quality measures already exist across the region with, perhaps, more examination in some cases of ‘hub and spokes’ approaches for the future.

I hope that the Ministers concerned will start to move towards such a model, and that the relevant Schools’ Commissioners et al will provide the elasticity of support to make this work.

Let us be in no doubt, the solution is regional and may be quite painful at times but it has the potential and economies of scale to work.

Education in our localities is ready for a joint agenda. We must also be cognisant that there is evidence across the further education sector of brilliant FE institutions, but there is also evidence of poorly governed and led colleges which skew and paint a picture of great variation.

My own college in Weston-super-Mare is part of the South West grouping of colleges very ably supported by the AoC Regional Manager and his Chair. It is time to grab the nettle, but regional solutions from the college sector itself are the only way forward.

Paul Phillips is principal and chief executive of Weston College, Weston-super-Mare

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