From education to employment

Time to fight for the sustainability of our sector #LoveOurColleges

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

The recent decision from Government not to increase finance support for the Further Education sector is a damning indictment on all we do for young people and adults.

Some commentators may take the view that our sector has had some horror stories in terms of bad management, others might say we have not shouted loud enough and others may be afraid that campaigning will give the sector a bad name.

Actually let’s be clear there have been some issues of horrendous management, but in a minority of cases, yes we probably haven’t shouted loud enough and for those who worry about the consequences of campaigning – get real and stick your head above the parapet.

We are at, what I would describe as precipice decision making, there is a perfect storm brewing and we as a sector need to cut to the chase.

We have an FE Commissioner concentrating on improving and raising awareness of our sector, we have real belief in what we are doing from Anne Milton et al., and yet still there is no joy.

The tide is changing however, now employers are saying to me surely there is more income available for apprenticeship frameworks – actually its likely to go down I think to myself, but keep quiet and the support my college gets from the perspective of thanks from learners, parents and employers is unsurpassed.

Yet something is still not working, in fact I don’t think we have had anyone with appreciation of the real potential of Further Education since David Blunkett.

I am immensely proud of the FE sector, I have worked in the school sector, the university sector and for most of my career in Further Education. Our sector transforms lives, our sector makes a difference, our sector equips young people from local schools apparently Ofsted outstanding who arrive here with deplorable grades in their Maths and English and our sector leads the skills agenda.

So what is actually happening on the ground, is it that we are doing a good job, but are way down the pecking order in terms of resource allocation? Do we need to do a bad job to be recognised?

Fundamentally we are professionals, we will not do anything other than change lives for the better so negativity is of no purpose. We need experts to help us profile our sector. Maybe that’s what is needed, but the status quo is not an option.

When I look at my staff, I see entrepreneurs, brilliance, dedication, uniqueness, care and dogged determination all of which benefits our learners. We must never lose that, our professionalism in my view exceed that of many public sectors.

So what is our strap line for action, the Government laboriously concentrate on Brexit, do they realise they face Fexit or does that sound (sorry to be facetious) like something off Mrs Brown’s Boys!

Enough frivolity, one thing is sure, we are delivering first class education and training, but are funded as a second class service. Time we got the message across correctly!

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

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