In my 35 years in the Royal Navy I had 14 different jobs, from being at sea in submarines to policy, project management and running major organisations. It is never the organisation or the work you miss most when leaving, but the people you work with and it is no different this time.
Sure there is still a lot for David Russell to do to get the organisation to where he and the sector will want it to be. But I am very proud of what the relatively small team of interims and permanent staff have achieved. I have been very lucky to have a really professional, dedicated and very hardworking team to support me as we have steamed ahead. It is too easy to forget that it is still only 25 working weeks since the Foundation was launched and 19 working weeks since I took over as Interim CEO; and we always said it would not be fully operational until March 14.
I guess the first really pleasing milestone was when we started getting tenders out there and placing contracts for work; we now have 29 tenders either awarded or still out for tender, with more coming, and yes I am very conscious that this surge has put quite a lot of pressure on the sector, but as always they have reacted brilliantly in responding to tenders and helping us formulate the way forward.
Equally, it's not just about number of tenders, and I am encouraged by the evolving process of involving the sector in early thinking about what is needed and how we should go about meeting that need, as well as formally engaging with the sector in defining the actual work to be commissioned. So, for example, the scoping contracts we placed to ascertain the sector's views on the workforce support needs for traineeships and apprenticeships worked very well. I have just signed off the major traineeship contract and read the apprenticeship tender, and I am very confident that these big programmes of work will address priority areas for workforce development, identified by providers. Other areas, such as the consultation on standards and the leadership conversation are attracting good levels of interest.
At the moment we are in the middle of developing a strategic plan and a delivery plan for 2014/15, which David will have the pleasure of taking to the Board in early February and a Board residential in March. So anything I say is most definitely subject to change, but our first view of priorities for 2014/15 will not come as a surprise and some are obvious; Maths, Vocational Education and Training, Governance and Leadership, perhaps with use of technology covering many of these areas.
If I was staying just three of my main worry beads would include;
Maths – there are quite rightly great expectations that as a country and sector we are going to make real progress in addressing this major economic and social problem; but we all know that millions have been spent, there have been a plethora of different initiatives and policy never stands still. I know use of raw statistics is dangerous (but as I am leaving no time for you to challenge me!), so last year 290,000 people who took GCSE achieved less than a Grade C and only 129,000 adults got a Level 2 maths in SFA funded programmes - so is the national maths skills deficit actually getting worse? This position must be reversed and keeping young people studying maths longer, before they enter the workforce, must be a major plank of any strategy, noting I deliberately haven't entered the debate as to whether or not that should be GCSE based! So what on earth is the Foundation going to do that really does make a difference, without, tempting as it is, just saying it's all down to schools? The maths enhancement programme, initiatives to help recruit more graduates and work to improve initial teacher education will not be enough! I am constantly surprised to hear of another initiative or that something has already been tried. So what else?
Governance – we all know there is increasing expectations on governance arrangements for all providers. There are major programmes underway to help, but how much is about changing cultures in some providers and modernising and strengthening accountability regimes? If so how do we do that and are current structures fit for purpose? If we know what good governance looks like (I think we do) then how do we get all providers to the same level? What is the Foundation's role in all this?
Impact – how will we really be able to demonstrate the impact of our work. Yes we have a contract out to define an impact framework, but turning that into reality is going to be hard, although that is no reason for not doing so. Equally it may result in a different approach to commissioning, for example, including a requirement in contracts to evaluate some impacts much later – 1 or 2 years after the programme has completed.
Vocational Education and Training – If we really do know what works, and there are many brilliant examples of providers and employers working extremely well together, why does it appear so hard for everyone to get this right?
Answers to these questions on a post card to David Russell please, although he may of course take a very different view on everything I have said.
I will finish with a genuine thank you to all the brilliant people I have worked with since I started the development phase in November 2012 and a special thank you to the many sector bodies and providers who have also been exceptionally supportive of me and the Foundation. I personally am absolutely convinced, as I had over the helm to David, that there is a very important role for the Foundation in our sector and I will watch its evolution with interest over the coming months and years.
Peter Davies is interim CEO of the Education and Training Foundation - David Russell takes the helm on 27 January