With a general election coming up we are sure to hear a lot of debate about tuition fees and how we finance education in this country. But what is more important is making sure that the money that goes into further and higher education is well spent.
All political parties say they want a better funded further education system with apparently more autonomy given to the institutions themselves.
For people like myself, embroiled in the day-to-day delivery of education to our young people, there is always a fear that new ministers will simply change things for the sake of change and introduce even more bureaucracy – and more bureaucracy will always cost more money.
At Weston College we have ambitious plans that will benefit the young people of this region and the town of Weston-super-Mare itself. We have strategic links with key employers, we have a Multi Academy Trust, and we have four main campuses and major higher education aspirations.
But to advance some of our ambitions we have to negotiate a chaotic maze of contacts with central and local government.
For instance we liaise with the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership, the SFA (Skills Funding Agency) on elements of adult funding, EFA (Education Funding Agency) on earlier learning age ranges, HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England) with regard to our HE provision, DfE (Dept for Education) for our academy provision, North Somerset Council for our regeneration work and nuclear training, each local authority we work with in regard to students with learning difficulties and disabilities, the North Somerset Partnership for key impact responses for our community, Job Centre Plus for our work with the unemployed, the Strategic Schools Forum for education in our area and I could go on and on.
Of course all these organisations are delivering to the best of their abilities but the sheer number of different government and local authority bodies to be consulted and dealt with slows down the rate at which our college can grow.
If our college wants to grow and develop new lines of activity there must surely be a simpler approach.
Imagine if there was one funding body made up of a series of departments for schools/academies; further and higher education; strategic change via capital investment and community enhancement and regeneration.
That would be a major step in the right direction and would mean that ambitious and forward-looking colleges and further education establishments could get decisions faster and put more resources into the areas that matter – those that actually help the learner rather than feed the bureaucratic machine!
That's why decisions on who gets funding and is enabled to deliver schemes should be based on previous performance. Those who can show they have delivered quality education and given value for money as far as numbers educated is concerned should be favoured. This seems to be sadly ignored by funding agencies at the moment.
Of course we must always remember that we are not educating people for education's sake and links with employers and the workplace are vital. That's why we are proud of the number of apprenticeships and traineeships being delivered in this area at the moment.
Employers are seeing the benefits of working closely with education providers and the learners are benefitting by ending up on the career ladder as a result.
So I will conclude having probably alienated many. When I was younger my mother used to love to say 'you've made your bed – now lie on it!' Ironically now as an educational community, as a country, we need to strip the bed and remake it!
Paul Phillips is principal and chief executive of Weston College, Weston-super-Mare