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

Meagre is an interesting word, it means deficient in amount or quality or extent. It is a frightening word for Further Education in particular because there is meagre understanding of our sector, meagre allocation of funding and meagre attention to the implications of the massive magnitude of change being thrown at the sector.

I went to Twickenham last Saturday hoping to see some outstanding rugby, but alas it was not to be. Before the match I was in conversation with somebody I had never met before who was a director within a major construction company.

I was struck by his massive enthusiasm for his staff to be upskilled and developed and how the levy was assisting. He admired the new apprenticeship scheme, had limited understanding of the levy modus operandi, but he wanted a flexibility of approach.

The argument he put forward was that he valued the apprenticeship concept, accepted totally the need to support the apprentice to succeed, but would never do too much because of the bureaucracy of approach and the apparent lack of flexibility regarding off the job training.

In the circumstances, I obviously tried to justify the need for some of the reporting but he was not to be convinced. Reflecting on our conversation there were clearly points of both knowledge deficiency but equally a total frustration with what is happening.

Unfortunately I feel that the speed of technical reform has occurred because there is clarity around the need for change, but the practitioners have just not been able to engage sufficiently to point out the strengths and the pitfalls.

Just a couple of questions for you then:

  • Given the progress scores of GCSE vs Functional Skills why would anyone continue with anything other than GCSE despite it being totally unsuitable for many learners?
  • Is the introduction of T Levels properly planned and is there a cast iron guarantee of them being accepted for university entrance, and - by the way - have universities heard of them?!?
  • Given that Institutes of Technology will advance Level 4 and Level 5 provision, doesn’t pump priming mean we need revenue not just capital?

I could go on but actually all three points are fundamental to curriculum development if it is to result in successful outcomes for learners.

The Government is giving our sector more attention and I note the major changes at the Department for Education give further education more profile.

While I have met some fantastic staff recently from the Department for Education, we cannot progress without ground rules which give us clarity and accountability based on fair funding that spans both capital and revenue.

But I do feel the tide is turning, Anne Milton and Damian Hinds hold the futures of so many learners in their jurisdiction and they are both showing commitment to our sector.

On Friday I interviewed a female applicant, probably in very late teens, who wanted to do an apprenticeship in business administration.

The interview was quite complex as the applicant had a range of issues, but when I asked her why she wanted to come to me she concluded with these magic words: “but I will work my arse off for you”.

My HR representative winced, the quality observer looked shocked, but I knew I had found potential!

Let the word meagre no longer apply to further education!

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

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