As we locked the college up at around 2pm on Christmas Eve we started to receive further information on the email about Area Review requirements together with more data analysis. I mused on the issue as I drove home to spend Christmas with the family and just wondered how such a situation might be dealt with if area review was affecting other education providers outside FE. Then suddenly the harsh reality of FE dawned on me – it would have posed no issue at all because nobody would have been at the other providers!
Still, enough of my cynicism. FE is under the spotlight and we had better get our act into gear – particularly because we have so much to be proud of, and more importantly our learners do very well despite limited resources so time to get the message out there. It's a fascinating process this review methodology – we have been contributing to the Offender Learning review and now we are gearing up for the West of England area review which kicks off properly in two weeks' time. The real danger of area review for me is that we take our eye off the ball and in fact make ourselves riper for intervention than ever, because with all the time devoted for data preparation and meetings, we may fail on developing an entrepreneurial curriculum with tremendous success. In my college, therefore, the attention is on making sure the corporate level deal with the area review and the levels below focus on our job – teaching and learning.
Area review, however, is actually good for me because I am re-evaluating provision and questioning why we do certain processes. It is readily apparent to me that we have followed what I would describe as the 'Canadian pondweed' model – that is to say that recently we have experienced growth and added in posts to support the development, but now we need to stand back and re-examine focus and ensure duplication is avoided. That's a very different scenario from what we had had to contribute to the reform of Offender Learning where we have been able to ensure that our best practice models are at least understood at the highest levels. The outcome at this stage is unclear but I do hope that the many and significant advances our college has made in reference to Offender Learning are part of any new delivery framework.
While all of these reviews advance I am minded of the colleges that merged to create super colleges and my own previous experience of merger which is that big is not always beautiful. The future of FE, following spending review and recent media coverage, suggests an uplift in terms of public perception - and about time too! I meet every day advocates of the FE agenda and so many people who are in senior management positions in industry and education after gaining qualifications through the FE route. The future, I think, however, is still open to massive change and will be potentially an overarching trust that deals with teaching and learning and has as its constituent parts Further Education, Multi Academy Trust(s) at both primary and secondary level, plus specialist divisions. By then creating the back office model that services the constituent parts we can move forward with a dynamic agenda for the future.
My final area is that of partnership for the future. The close knit opportunities that FE, Academies, Universities and Local Authorities can achieve together should not be underestimated, but it does require trust at all levels. We in Weston College have worked over a long period of time with our local authority, local schools and academies and in particular Bath Spa University and University of West of England with demonstrable results on both sides. That in many ways is fundamental if we are to ensure superb educational provision in a geographical area. Hopefully not another review I hear you say....
Paul Phillips is principal and chief executive of Weston College, Weston-super-Mare