The summer looms and with it the usual strategic changes for Further Education colleges. This year is particularly fraught for FE because we have changes in funding rates, the impact of HE in FE - or, more likely, the impact of HE on FE - and the final negotiations with the SFA and YPLA with regard to funding allocations. In fairness the picture is improved compared to a few months ago but when you create your 2012/13 academic year budget don’t forget to consider 14-16 enrolments, the planned DFE funding reforms, the distinct lack of initial advice and guidance to young people in schools, the pensions debate and Ofsted. Is it all too much? It doesn’t matter because this is the pace of change and nothing is going to slow it down!
So what should managers in the FE sector do or not do? I would sincerely suggest that we should not put all of our eggs in one basket but instead look at new models of learning, and ensuring a diversity of opportunity. To succeed therefore, obtain a mix of provision; make sure it covers the 14-25 year age range and concentrate on building up the success rate. Once you have achieved this menu add some calculated risk so that your business plans are spiced up to maintain interest and ingenuity!
In my column this month however I must make mention of the abolition of the requirement for colleges and training providers to employ professionally qualified teachers. I can remember my own training at Cardiff University back in 1982 where I and colleagues spent some sixteen weeks spread over two years learning how to become good teachers. In those days the pre-requisite for success was some innate ability in teaching coupled with the ability to create good acetates for the overhead projector (OHP). I enjoyed those weeks, the feeling of camaraderie, those long lunches in the Woodville Public House and the outrageous personalities of some of my tutors. I was focused in my approach but equally I felt that I was a good teacher before and after my training period. The new proposals which would appear to leave the discretion to the employer are to my mind full of risk.
Why, you say? Well, it comes down to professionalism. The FE sector fought long and hard to gain parity with the school sector. It would be interesting to know the level of debate behind such decisions. I ask because there is just a nagging doubt here as to the extent to which Ofsted and other bodies have been consulted about this. What is clear is that as a minimum, colleges will have to run their own teaching schemes. The review does put forward justification for abolishing the qualification by comparing the situation to ‘voluntary’ training in Higher Education! Once again you have to ask about the involvement of FE in these decisions – I think many of us were seeking an element of reform but a deregulation of teacher training was never on the horizon. For those of you interested in the full range of analysis and proposals then look at the Lord Lingfield review of FE professionalism. It also reminds me of that phrase ‘Be careful of what you ask for’!
Anyway back to the work schedule, DON’T throw away your staff development strategies in the light of the above because Ofsted will continue to inspect FE providers to check that training/professional development is up to scratch. Also bear in mind that Information, Advice and Guidance for our young people will remain critical – statutory guidance published this week has done little to advance the agenda. At a time when young people need very precise support in identifying career routes for the future it will place great emphasis upon Colleges to show the way forward and to encourage progression at all levels.
Now I must end on a positive note – actually I am not a Victor Meldrew and the progress made by Further Education colleges this year has been quite dynamic. Our sector is meeting government agendas head on and with improving efficiencies and miraculously we have not lost sight of the fact that we are here for the learner. We are also in the unique position that we don’t have to worry about the work life balance because we haven’t got one. Keep taking the tablets!
Paul Phillips is principal and chief executive of Weston College, Weston-super-Mare
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