The end of the term is rapidly approaching and I spent a few minutes looking at the various demands and dictates arriving on my desk. They range from details of how short notice Ofsted inspections will operate to funding changes and the new adult loans scheme. On top of that and let’s just say we push all of this to one side, there is the bread and butter – actually ensuring that the learners in front of us are taught properly by inspirational teachers who will give them the skills to progress to further study and eventually employment.
The Ofsted agenda is an interesting one because the first thing the inspectorate needs to do is to examine the mix of provision between long, short and very short categories. One might inevitably expect the ratio to vary slightly between inspections, but if it has changed dramatically then it is time to dig around to see if curriculum is being manipulated for inspector rather than curriculum being for the purpose for the learner. It is also worth looking at Colleges that reduce in size considerably because that in itself may signify inappropriate strategy. Generally allowing for such analysis there is an almost straight forward focus on the learner journey of experience complete with associated success. We shouldn’t moan about that, it is the purpose of our roles today. Every college is different but we all need to focus upon producing the best possible learning experience for everyone who crosses our doorstep.
Staff within colleges generally deliver way above the statutory requirements of their role. I am writing this article at 6.30pm on a Wednesday evening in my college, yet most of the secretarial staff are still present, as are many lecturers completing moderation of coursework, providing individual support to students’ etc. etc. I was amazed therefore to read in an article from another source that our staff in Further Education (FE) colleges are overpaid with generous perks and holidays - my experience of FE staff, and I have worked in five different FE Colleges in my career, is that staff are dedicated, conscientious, entrepreneurial and highly professional. That isn’t to say that there are a few who play the clock waiting game with minimal interaction, but market forces dictate and they won’t be with us for long.
I am not going to spend any time this month on funding changes because it is inevitable that they will occur and even more inevitable that they will continue to re-occur. The use of the adult loans however is a concern - I can accept to a certain extent that people must pay for training, but since the loans in the main will not be huge in comparison to Higher Education loans, how will the process be managed? In my own college we have been highly successful in engaging hard to reach learners and getting them over the threshold where the majority then vastly increase their confidence and succeed. Now however, we have the double whammy do all that and get them to sign up for the loan. Ok we’ve got to do it but is the loan application quick or are the forms a bureaucratic nightmare? I don’t know the answer but it will be a novel process dealing with adults who need key support in foundation learning and who may have to fill in a loan application synonymous with a detailed mortgage application! My understanding from the Skills Funding Agency is that we will be able to suggest positive suggestions for possible change. If that’s the case make sure you pilot the ability for these forms to be filled in correctly in the first place.
Finally, it is that time of year when we say goodbye to some colleagues who have decided to escape the rat race, have got their retirement sorted and have just managed to beat the latest austerity measures from the Government regarding pensions and annual allowance and lifetime allowance etc. Good luck to you all, certainly some key leaders are leaving the patch in the South West where I work, brilliant because they have inspiration, and successful because they are poachers turned gamekeepers. The world of Further Education continues to be a magnet for the entrepreneur, the commercial manager and those who seek knowledge.
So I will close now but not before wishing all of you a successful start to the next academic year, but preferably a well-deserved break at some point in the next few weeks. Look after your new entrants to the teaching profession in September in particular because to date they are untainted by bureaucracy, idiosyncrasies and plain daft decisions.
For those readers in North Somerset we are witnessing significant change for both the town of Weston-super-Mare and the whole authority area. Plans are coming to fruition from a number of perspectives and these include a new Academy for learners with Autism and Asperger’s, significant success at the end of year shows for both Weston College and local schools, plus continued changes with regard to NHS re-organisation and the new developments on the seafront of Weston-super-Mare. I watched a programme on the economy of Greece last night and against this benchmark the area is pretty outstanding!
Paul Phillips is principal and chief executive of Weston College, Weston-super-Mare