Dr Paul Phillips CBE, Principal and Chief Executive of Weston College

September is here again and already the College environment is manic as students of all ages descend upon us – some aged 16 and straight from school or academy, others using FE as a stepping stone in their life and career options, and others simply exploring what we have to offer... 

The options are massive and my guidance and curriculum staff are working all hours, and we need to make sure that initial advice and guidance is right else we immediately start to get things wrong! This year above all years I am reminded of the significant role FE plays in the lives of people.

At Weston College in just the last two days I have seen nervous 16 year olds choosing their course of study following their GCSE grades. In other cases I have met students who literally have no idea what they want to do, and then at the other extreme I met university graduates intent upon an apprenticeship! It is good we can present the diversity of curricula options but I do wonder if the careers guidance pre-16 had been much better, would this be such an issue? As ever the FE College wherever it is will be picking up the responsibility for main curriculum option, careers guidance, English and maths etc.

The apprenticeship agenda is having impact and again I am seeing students of all ages realising the potential that such a study route can offer. I often find identifying the career route and working backwards actually delivers what is needed – then the learner can see all the different routes and making the decision is somewhat easier. The advent of the Apprenticeship Levy, albeit slow burning, is also raising awareness at all levels of learning, business and industry.

What are my concerns for this academic year? Well I need to be careful here as I don’t want to suggest I am in need of counselling myself! The issue for me is management of expectation and ensuring that every learner gets a great deal at a time which can only be described as “exploratory”, particularly where apprenticeships levies and adult funding are concerned.

We will do it, but without wishing to be a control freak, I like to know the exact systems for learning so that I can be assured of the corresponding quality and assessment. At the same time the Levy does represent a massive opportunity if the system is policed properly, quality is at the forefront, and if organisations put all their energy into the learner.

Back to a little of the local agenda here at Weston. As we open new facilities, most notably the Winter Gardens, Law and Professional Services Academy and university centre, I am reminded of my golden rules of engagement:

  • If it doesn’t promise profound benefits to the learner, don’t do it.
  • You only achieve the big picture through partnership – this is especially for us in Weston with our works with the LEP, Council, ESFA, university partners, multi-academy trust, etc.
  • Never lose sight of what the institution is here to do.

It’s not all good news out there – I could dwell on Learndirect’s Ofsted rating but actually that’s not FE! It has affected many many learners and needs robust intervention.

I could dwell on  Ofsted changes, but to my mind success and progress are indeed the key. I could also worry about adult budgets and funding in the light of devolution, loans etc.

Finally, I could start to raise my blood pressure over the costs of Area Review. Actually, if you look into the eyes of the thousands of learners who achieve well beyond their expectations at the College each year, you realise how many lives you hold in the palm of your hand – lives to be transformed through learning.

At Weston College we run an academic conference each year – this year’s theme was ‘Collateral Learning’… Need I say more?

Dr Paul Phillips CBE, Principal and Chief Executive of Weston College

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