As we approach Christmas it is time to look back on a term of change. The advent of adult learner loans, the tighter mechanisms in place regarding apprenticeships (and funding in general) and the influence of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEP) and the absence of appropriate software for funding - quite a mammoth task but we are getting through it. And what about the maths and English fiasco, you say? I am actually going to devote more time to that agenda later - I am still bemused by the inability of the politicians to handle this situation correctly.
Most colleges in the UK have now adapted to the new methodologies and are strategically working or trying to work with their LEPs. The situation varies quite significantly from area to area and the South West has been quick to grasp the nettle. There is evidence of good partnership between providers but equally the Government pilot to restrict or control or retain - you choose the words - five per cent of revenue funding is causing consternation. The reason for this is not that colleges aren't prepared to play ball but quite the opposite; it is because the Government keeps changing the ground rules. First it is identification of deliverables related to LEP priorities (approximately five per cent), then it is retention of five per cent of money locally, then it is five per cent of money nationally. Even if we were inept enough to accept this, there are no clear rules. So what if you over-perform? Now there's a question! Colleges and the Association of Colleges need to take a firm stance here. By the way we trust there will be equality here and the same mechanisms will be applied to private training providers?
Well, I'm in the mood now to deal with the maths and English issue and funnily enough I listened to a group of businesses last week lamenting the fact that they are interviewing young people with good qualifications, including GCSEs, but in interview they just can't sell themselves or converse appropriately. Not to worry - the Government strategy is to ensure more and more young people do GCSE maths and English, along with adult and Access students as well! As a mathematician I worry about this strategy. In my mind we need to ensure that every learner is exposed to sound learning skills, and that they achieve GCSE maths and English if they are capable of doing so, but we must not and cannot exclude the huge percentage of learners who will never achieve these qualifications but will be able to cope with a more technical, hands-on certificate. I am the first to admit that what is going on in our schools and colleges is not good enough for a variety of reasons but at least give us the opportunity to discuss and formulate strategy that has impact.
I was at the AoC Conference in Birmingham a fortnight ago and I had the opportunity to participate in a range of workshops and talks. I concentrated on the maths/English topic in the hope of achieving some common sense strategies; alas, this was not the result. The conference itself however continued to provide an enviable list of speakers and updating sessions which at the very least were helpful. As they say, a problem shared...
Christmas beckons and so does the analysis of Government strategy regarding quality of provision and associated cost benefit analysis. Here in North Somerset we are about to hear if we have been successful with regard to our new Enterprise College. We have also got a new Chief Executive of the Council who is keen on the key issues facing North Somerset from a skills and innovation perspective. The future is very exciting and contains plenty of management of change and calculated risk. Christmas is also three weeks away - I wish you all a Happy Christmas and successful New Year wherever you are.
Paul Phillips is principal and chief executive of Weston College, Weston-super-Mare