Government agendas continue to drive down the costs of education and this year we have all started to see the effects of Government change. In some areas the unit of resource is reduced per learner and in other areas we see removal of the ‘provider’ factor which I always saw as a major incentive in driving up quality. Interestingly, I wonder what the level of negotiation between the funding agencies and Ofsted was for this to happen?
Hang on I hear you say – is he being cynical again? Well, if you reduce the revenue per learner - even with an element of protection funding - and remove ‘reward’ for quality provision it does go against the grain. In fact the word 'grain' is interesting because I am now viewing the approach as a series of silos where what goes on inside one has no rhyme nor reason logically with what goes on inside others!
My real concern however is that if funding reduces this is likely to have an effect on quality. As programmes of study are developed there is an opportunity to change approach but fundamentally these programmes must provide qualifications needed for progression to employment. The issue of gaining appropriate qualifications in Mathematics and English is now more crucial than ever and the strategies for developing this will be costly but necessary. Colleges (and to some extent schools) will need to be very careful in regard to their strategic planning and balance the activities around finances, quality and challenge to the students concerned. Principals in FE Colleges will no doubt have received recent letters from the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) regarding changes in approach and how modelling of funding will initially have a protection factor so that changes are restricted to around three percent. At least I think that is what it is about – it is one for the most confusing letters I have seen in a while and the follow up has left me even more baffled!
OK the Victor Mildrew part of me has had his say, but at least I never just dwell on the issues that aren’t happening. The positives far outweigh the negatives. The involvement of the Association of Colleges and the Educational Funding Agency in helping Colleges with regard to changes in the funding for students with learning difficulties and disabilities has been impressive. Our work with the Skills Funding Agency in Offender Learning across the South West has been an example of real partnership between SFA, the Prisons and our College. The West of England Local Enterprise Partnership has also worked closely with FE providers in terms of advancing the regional skills agenda. There is much to be proud of.
Debate has also started with regard to the future of Adult Funding and perhaps greater partnership between LEPs and SFA. From my perspective whilst the liaison is crucial, so is the separation and the LEPs need to be seen to influence skills approaches but not change agency approaches. I am also aware that whilst the South West LEP is making very good progress and inroads this is not representative across the country,
So what’s happening generally? We have ‘Traineeships’ on the agenda which, if operated properly, will provide an excellent route into employment or further training. Apprenticeship take-up continues to rise and the issue of HE in FE has many challenges and opportunities and hopefully HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England) will enable even greater flexibility of approach in the future.
To give some context to the education delivery across North Somerset we continue to witness change and expansion. There is a likelihood of one academy gaining a primary school on their land, and much opportunity for enhanced partnership. Institutions by geographical area need to work together to provide quality education and we need to be cognisant of the fact that only true partnership will survive over the next years. The Michael Gove agenda does tend to throw all of us into the lion’s den but if we all deliver high quality teaching and learning we should have nothing to fear.
To all readers I wish you a busy but successful end of term and moreover a restful summer break – however brief that turns out to be!
Paul Phillips is principal and chief executive of Weston College, Weston-super-Mare