As I write it’s the morning of Sunday 13th January and the snow hasn't yet arrived. I’ve been back in work just over a week and the pressure is building, but lest I forget a very Happy New Year to you! In my own authority there are significant changes: we have a new Police and Crime Commissioner, a new Chief of Police, an elected Mayor in Bristol - the list goes on…
So what for us in the world of education, or anywhere else for that matter? I suppose if I wanted to ask for anything from our Government it would be one word – communication. And if I wanted a bit more it would be communication complemented by logic. It is probably a facet that every part of the public services agenda needs.
Our landscape has changed considerably. Just consider that this year until July we will work to one methodology (where FE is quite discrete), and then from August 1 our linkage with the support for students with learning difficulties and disabilities will be via our local authority. Adult learner loans will be in position for potential learners NOT put off by debt and there will be continued development of employer ownership pilots as well as colleges being able to admit learners at age 14. Michael Gove is advancing in one direction, the chief inspector in another, Skills Funding Agency in another and the Educational Funding Agency in yet another! Absolutely fascinating, and to cap it all and there is going to be an FE Guild.
So what do we as educators need to do in order to get our own house in order? We need to have communication and plan appropriately. How many institutions can say 'we are approaching the issues as growth/income/staying afloat' and how many are saying 'what is best for the learner?' I expect many of you will say that the truth is somewhere between the two statements, but actually in a supply chain there is logic to how stages of delivery develop and there is nobody ensuring that clarity of delivery is appropriately managed. When Michael Gove created the competitive arena, which I have no problem with, I am sure he had a wish to preserve and enhance the best and remove the worst, but from my perspective there is something missing. There needs to be distinct plans for delivery of learning and the imperatives must be agreed upon by the funders, the quality agencies and the deliverers.
Certainly, in Weston College we are seeing changes and probably the two areas of development are apprenticeships and HE in FE. This type of comment I know is not unique but it does reflect a growing concern amongst parents and young people of the need to acquire skills that match workplace demand, but also have a reasonable certainty of a good career route. At a recent business breakfast, an employer raised the issue that he didn’t think apprentices arrived with the right skills for his industry. When pressed he failed to elaborate, especially when I pointed out that actually the last apprentice he took on was more than ten years ago – again, communication and logic missing! In fairness to employers the one issue they raise, which I think has major relevance, is the ability of young people to communicate appropriately, provide a sense of presence and develop the art of logical argument. Apprenticeship schemes do need to change to ensure that these skills are both developed and enhanced for learners of the future.
We are never too old to learn. A few days before Christmas my central heating system decided to give up the ghost and I called out the engineer from a local company. He was a young man who had just completed his apprenticeship at a local college and he ably sorted out the issue. As we chatted while he sorted out the main issues he told me that he hadn’t been able to cope with GCSEs because he didn’t manage well under exam pressure. However, the vocational equivalent had matched his needs and, although he hadn’t found it easy, had gained the numerical and literacy skills he needed. This young man had kept getting grade D at GCSE Maths but had achieved success through the equivalent route. He was happy, I was happy and presumably both Government and his employer are happy.
Now then, where is this leading? It is very simple – there are young people out there who cannot achieve a grade C at GCSE Maths and English but are certainly not to be reconciled to the failure pile. Yet in the future, colleges will be expected to turn grade Ds – via a modular route - into grade Cs and above by a linear route. In some cases it will be achievable but where it isn’t, for goodness sake, let us have a fall-back position or at least a dual approach.
At the same time as dealing with all of this we are all professionals with family commitments. We have to balance work with family, often with our nearest and dearest losing out due to the intense demands of our jobs. Over the Christmas period, I have been liaising with a local hospital, my GP surgery, Social Services and care home for some rehabilitation care for my mother who is soon to leave a hospital in Wales. The effort and care exhibited by these different organisations has been quite superb and the improvement in my mother is apparent and pleasing to see. The actual move to rehabilitation care however is massively delayed. Why, you ask? I expect many of you have been here before me and already know the answer – communication! They just don’t talk to each other and so my wish for the New Year is that we should all communicate and be realistic. It sounds simple…
So, from Weston College to colleges and schools / academies all across the education sector, I wish you all the very best for a successful and rewarding calendar year. May the logic and communication improve alongside our very special organisations of which we are proud.
Paul Phillips is principal and chief executive of Weston College, Weston-super-Mare