At the Association of Colleges (AoC) 16 "“ 19 Summer Conference, college principals and administrators from the Further Education sector gathered with various administrators, policy makers and advisors to discuss the issues of the moment that caused them concern. Unsurprisingly, one of the items that remains steadfastly at the head of the list is the funding allocation from the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), widely seen as detrimental to the sector as a whole and specifically for its cut for adult learning provision.
In a keynote address in the main hall at the Moat Hotel in Stratford "“ upon "“ Avon, the Chief Executive of the AoC, Dr. John Brennan, spoke to delegates on the current state of funding and campaigning, and on the prospects for the immediate future. He highlighted the importance of determining their present position regarding the 16 "“ 19 agenda, and said that as the general election has been and gone, the time had now come for more campaigning and policy decisiveness.
Funding Today and Tomorrow
In a theme that the AoC have consistently supported for the last few months, john Brennan expressed the AoC's discontent with the current level of funding allocated by the LSC "“ which represents a rise of approximately 4% across the sector (wh9ich is barely above inflation) and contains an absolute cut in funding allocated to adult (post 19) learning provision. He also stated that the current funding mechanism could benefit from clarification and simplification, and that the whole procedure needs to be substantially more coherent.
He did not criticise the intentions behind governmental targets, and cited as laudable the aim of having some 50% of students entering Higher Education. However, he pointed out that the recent LSC funding decisions were an example of the very prioritisation that he had been told would not occur in funding decisions. Turning his attention to the increase of 4%, he lamented the fact that this figure plainly fails to take into account the increase in uptake of places in FE, leading to the conclusion that FE colleges are actually the victims of their own success.
Managerial Rationalisation and Campaigning
Dr. Brennan then turned his attention to the idea of managerial rationalisation, focusing his attention on amongst other matters the proposed merger of OFSTED and the Adult Learner Inspectorate (ALI). He pointed out that this emrger would naturally raise a whole range of issues equally complex, without necessarily resolving the problems in the current system. He made it very clear that an ongoing pressure to reform was of course not problematic for the sector (a matter he returned to); but in the matter of college inspection, he calls for a greater awareness of the local and individual differences rather than a "one size fits all" inspection regime.
Dr. Brennan called on those present to take advantage of the more favourable political climate to further their causes. He praised the rate of success thus far, which has seen some 500 items on the funding issue appear in the national media and will see a petition with an anticipated 50,000 signatories (Fair Trade Issue) delivered to Downing Street later in the summer.
However, he recognises the need not to rest on these laurels, particularly with the Foster Review due to report in a short while. He mentioned that Mr. Adonis had promised equality of funding between schools and colleges, and somewhat wryly assured the conference that he was looking forward to working with him.
League Tables, Competition and the Changing World
The issue of setting sixth forms in schools up almost as a competition to FE colleges drew criticism from Dr. Brennan, who stated that there was no actual evidence that the raft of new institutions being brought into existence by the government "“ such as more 6th forms within schools, specialized schools, academies "“ brought any tangible benefits to the student or the sector.
He pointed out to the audience in front of him that it was very important not to see the league tables as the be all and end all in judging the performance of the sector, and stated that an awareness of the varying demographics in different institutions and local communities was essential for any fair and accurate assessment of the situation. He stressed that, in today's fast "“ changing world, there was no question of the FE sector standing still; and indeed that the FE sector welcomed debate, as long as it was debate that garnered actual results. The sector does not fear change and reform; but rather questions change for change's sake.
Is change vital, or just an excuse for action? Tell us in the FE Blog"