Anyone who has read the dreadful analysis of the NHS in Stafford will have been shocked by the standards of care or, more accurately, lack of care that were recently revealed in a damning report.  At one point, when watching the coverage on the news the reporter said that there had been a focus on targets rather than patient care.  I think he was inferring that surely the focus should have been on both – achievement of high quality care in the first instance but also an ability to meet the targets that are set.

My article this month looks at targets from two perspectives; those who look solely at targets but hopefully want to change and those who should be looking at targets.  Let me start first with Ofsted and their inspection of Further Education Colleges.  In the annual report from the Chief Inspector a number of comments are made which include:

“There has been insufficient attention paid to how well these qualifications help learners achieve their career……”

“Providers have not focussed enough on measuring the true impact of their provision”

In a way the Chief Inspector has picked up on the whole issue of targets and is looking for the FE Sector to measure impact more effectively and look at how we effect life-changing decisions for young people and adults.  I believe that every one of us could do this and in a way the Inspectorate, Skills Funding Agency and ourselves should be working together so that success targets for relevant qualifications are supported by appropriate and verified progression data.  Good, here is a starting point – so who is going to grab the nettle?  Don’t read into my article that I agreed with all the Chief Inspector had to say in his report – I didn’t  - but the issue of looking at how we do in terms of effecting progression is both correct and crucial.

Now we now move to my second issue and that is around the reform of funding for students with learning difficulties and disabilities.  Crudely, we have a new system where some of the money still comes to Colleges from the Education Funding Agency (EFA) and another pot goes to the Local Authority.  If you are a very large College then you may end up dealing with many different authorities to add to the bureaucracy, but that is not my real concern.  My concern is that with LDD learners we have a group who need significant support and whose needs are often overlooked.  The Education Funding Agency (EFA) have launched their new methodology this year with no reference to protected funding as they have done for 16-19 core learners and with a mechanism that is flawed.  It is flawed because it does not allow for provision that has grown significantly in the last year, it does not allow for innovative learning support scenarios and it works against small unitary authorities.  Above all it is an example of not testing systems to check if they provide realistic solutions for learning.

'Ok', you might say 'I am sure that if you are a small authority you can appeal, if you are a College you can appeal to EFA and your Local Authority and if you are an innovative College you can raise merry hell with your local MP.'  But actually why should you ? These are vulnerable young people and adults – you should not be interfering with their lives.  Most importantly what if the perfect storm occurs and all three of the criteria mentioned above occur simultaneously?

My understanding sadly is that perfect storms are occurring or have the potential to occur and there really is no excuse for this.  We all understand the need for austerity but at least treat learners equally so that perhaps the rate of funding has to fall slightly compared to the previous year but let us not have a post code lottery – we will be like the NHS then!

I am optimistic of a solution – my dealings with the EFA locally have generally been very positive with individuals who genuinely care about the outcomes for young people and adults.  I surmise this is another formula handed down from on high – hopefully I will be able to write in my next article that common sense prevailed. Let’s all hope....

I will close by making reference to all the hype over the FE Guild and simply say that we ought to be getting on with our jobs and ensuring learners succeed and progress.

Paul Phillips is principal and chief executive of Weston College, Weston-super-Mare


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