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It is that time of year when in the middle of juggling the key FE priorities the ‘gathering of the clans’ event heralds itself.

Yes, it’s the Association of Colleges National Conference - which in my view always provides an insight into sector developments and sometimes just helps the psychological disposition of your typical further education Principal such as myself...

"How is this?" you might ask yourself. Well, it is amazing how sharing frustrations, hopes and anxieties makes you feel that perhaps you are not quite on your own. I have no doubt we will have to listen to many platitudes but hopefully the FE voice will be heard and some of the poor funding decisions changed for the better – I am the eternal optimist and live in hope!

I imagine every college has its own list of challenges and for my College it is about evaluating the challenges and the ongoing projects, and coming up with a level of prioritisation.  It’s that real conundrum of achieving equilibrium between good quality of provision, financial balance/fluidity and ensuring learners have a great experience.

My clear conclusions for the future are that we are going to have to simplify our current agenda down to FE core, Apprenticeship Levy, and HE in FE if we are to have any chance of staying sane in the current agenda. We are in common with the sector, preparing for year-end and some of the unrealistic assumptions being brought into the pension rules via FRS102 are nothing short of madness. What is this FRS102? If you don’t know, find out rapidly – it’s a ridiculously insane rule for your year-end accounts designed to move the sanest of Principals to the psychiatrist’s couch!

Well, here’s my shopping list for the AoC conference:

  • Continue to challenge the unhelpful criteria regarding GCSE English and maths,
  • Get better funding support and gain better understanding of the T Level reform.

In regard to the latter, it is particularly important for us to gain an understanding the rationale of the work experience element of that reform which at present does not make sense in terms of the magnitude of the placement (through the rationale for including it is clearly sound). Some of my staff are also leading a session on English and maths to share their experiences in the delivery and change mechanisms.

Whatever we think or are concerned about, the pace of change and the level of entrepreneurship in our sector never ceases to impress me. The ‘National Leaders of Further Education’, the Beacon Awards, the Association of Colleges Policy Groups, the apprenticeship and skills agenda – it goes on and on and it's change I welcome.

Why? It proves to me that we are still the catalyst for skills delivery and development putting right many atrocities at other levels of educational delivery.

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

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