I have just returned to Weston College after a spell in hospital following an operation…

I found it useful to observe the politics of the NHS compared to that of further education; the realisation of funding cuts is only too evident within the NHS, and I saw similarities between the people that work there and in FE in general.

I found people committed to the delivery of positive outcomes, people overwhelmed with the magnitude of the task ahead of them, and others who have lost all sense of direction. It wasn’t a comfort to me, but a reinforcement of the need to have clarity at all levels in the complicated delivery of public services. It is very clear that FE needs to stand up and be counted, and the current agenda by the Association of Colleges in challenging ridiculous discussions over sixth form provision sets the pace.

So what else is facing us in the sector? One could turn this whole article into a moaning session, but it is not. It is about ensuring the impact occurs in the support of learners. I fear that Area Review, where it has created or is suggesting the creation of larger units of activity, may remove the individuality of organisations and their ability to respond to their local community and business needs. It is clear that there are organisations out there that are never going to survive on their own with the current challenges and financial issues. Change, therefore, is inevitable and as a sector we need to focus on identifying priorities and measuring impact.

I have some suggestions for a way forward for our sector:

  • Ofsted should remain as the QA measurement tool with sufficient staff involved who have key FE experience
  • Colleges which are in immeasurable deficit should be given 12 months to resolve issues, and if there is no improvement they should be put on the open market for training providers including other colleges to bid for
  • There should be one funding formula for all age ranges up to 19
  • The Government should recognise what is exclusive college provision (and therefore what is down to schools etc.)
  • Every local authority working with their relevant LEP(s) to form an Area Trust detailing what providers will deliver.

The results:

  • We will remain focused on quality and the learner
  • We will lose our authority if we cannot measure and manage our finances
  • We will produce high quality outcomes or be taken over
  • We will not be disadvantaged by other sectors
  • We will have an element of uniqueness
  • We will work to serve our communities.

Of course if this was to happen we would need funding agencies, local authorities, LEPs and providers to work together. Quality and financial sustainability would be crucial, resulting in a benefit to the learner. Most other bureaucratic reviews, conferences, etc. would cease before they become reminiscent of sequences from the 1978 film Coma.

I know this is far too logical for our world, but I have a feeling the government under Theresa May is ready for real change. You never know….

To my colleagues across the FE sector: I trust your term is going well. I was in hospital for kidney stones by the way; they say the pain is worse than child birth. I wouldn’t know, but it was certainly on a par with some of the daft things that I have had to waste time on in the last 12 months!


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