The magnitude of change and to some extent unanswered questions on the horizon point to an uncertain future for the FE sector.
It is astonishing that, as a sector with the prime responsibility for the education of learners aged 16+, we are facing challenges that include the repair and correction of demonstrably poor English and maths results pre-16 from the school/academy sector plus being the catalyst for the new apprenticeship agenda.
Perhaps we fail to shout enough about our predicament? Or is it because we produce dynamic results despite the chaotic approaches?
The English and maths agenda and the current consultations from DfE and Ofqual present some interesting challenges on their own. Within their approaches there is still a lack of flexibility and equity between qualifications and even the ‘progress’ measures from Ofsted almost reduce the consideration of functional skills versus GCSE, which is so wrong.
Let’s hope that the results of both DfE and Ofqual consultations produce a clear way forward which offers discretion to the provider to choose the relevant route alongside proper screening processes and appropriate ESFA funding to make outcomes feasible.
Alongside the English and maths agenda there is the whole issue of T Levels, appropriate work experience and progress measures. To be fair, this agenda is starting to come together, although again there are issues in how English and maths may be embedded.
At present, the real challenge is that of apprenticeships – more from a strategic financial planning perspective than from the delivery approach. It is a tricky time, but a recent briefing from Keith Smith at ESFA inspired confidence in the process which again is starting to take shape. Trying to guess financial outcomes and explaining to Governors and others the implications of the Apprenticeship Levy, off the job training, etc. is a challenge in the present climate.
One issue brought to the forefront is the fact that the Levy is public money and many employers have yet to grasp that nettle – it is not a replacement vehicle for existing in-house training but (as it should be) a rigorous framework for the delivery of apprenticeship training, subject to appropriate quality and audit processes.
As I write this update it is 11am on a Monday morning. I have already welcomed in guests to Weston College for a bespoke management course we are running for industry; I have opened one of our new hairdressing salons with Steven Smart, a national hairdressing champion; prepared for a visit from DfE tomorrow; and caught up with my Deputy on some key curriculum issues. Three hours down and eight to go… welcome to the world of FE, I wouldn’t change it for anything!
Dr Paul Phillips CBE, Principal and Chief Executive of Weston College