In the current climate, the change in direction alongside, consolidation for FE colleges, the effects on students and staff combined (i.e. such as contracts of employment, lecturing agencies, salaries, pensions, student finance, the loss of education maintenance grants), is redefining what FE is for.
What is FE for?
Based on my experience of further education over the years, I will start in 1993, the year in which FE colleges were removed from local authorities control and sphere of influence of college policies, i.e. finance, staffing levels, what courses would be provided, engagement in the local economy, plus much more, mainly ownership on assets, who set on the corporation governing body.
Incorporation: Colleges set free, or a decline in stature?
Initially incorporation was not an inherently bad policy, however as the years have passed since that day, colleges were set free. As was often quoted at the time, many others and I have witnessed a relative decline in the role and stature of FE colleges, and the courses they provided.
Numerous colleges in England have merged disposed of land, building and various assets.
Some colleges signed contracts prior to 1993 therefore leaving the local authority to pay the bills, and receipts on sales of land or building was wasted in the colleges. Many colleges ran up huge debts, some executives did quite well out of the new-found independence.
Who benefits the most?
Many young people who don’t do particularly well in the state-run schools, that are dictated by the national curriculum, will improve at an FE college, either on a course that is full time, or day release from work.
Young people who don’t succeed in school often do much better at an FE college, however lecturers are working via agencies, employed under a sort of gig situation.
As I wrote at the beginning EMA’s have been lost, ironically local councils operated EMA’s at first, before passed on to colleges, but they helped the less well-off students.
What does the future hold for FE?
Education policy in England needs a consistent progress of travel, that is not driven by ideological nonsense about bright young people and less bright young people who can only do menial forms of work.
Since 1980 there has been 28 or so education acts of parliament, 48 or so educational secretaries of state, 5 or more reorganisations of FE colleges.
It is in my view, time for everyone who cares about further education, to sit down and involve students and staff, to determine what FE is for and where, how it is delivered during the time of uncertainty for the economy.
In conclusion it is time for an unblemished look at what FE is for, where it is destined, who provides the teaching, who and what is taught, determine sources of meaningful financial help for the less well off, a careers service that is more than issuing leaflets.
Cooperation between schools, colleges, employers, local education authorities, and to restore the confidence of all those who care for our third section of education and to not go headstrong in to a market led by uncertainty.
Phillip M Watson
About Phillip: As a former school governor at a senior school Phillip persuaded the head teacher and governor's to form a loose partnership with a local college that allowed pupils to attend college under school supervision. This achieved very good results for the pupils and gave them a insight into college life.