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

Reports in the media of underspent adult allocations by colleges, and conversely colleges who have over delivered being denied money, makes very poor reading for funding allocations.

Common sense has clearly not prevailed and changes must occur to allow better and appropriate use of monies. At the same time, the post 18 review is being implemented and it does pose quite poignant questions for the sector. I would suggest that the FE sector needs to stop being squeezed both functionally and financially. The harsh reality however is that for the true worth of FE to be recognised it must have appropriate representation.

The ‘squeeze’ is inevitable with ESFA handling schools and colleges, but predominantly schools/academies and the Office for Students dealing with higher education however that may be defined in the future.

I would suggest that to get the best out of our sector we need to be properly accountable to the new measures defied by Ofsted from a quality perspective and from the FE Commissioner for the financial and accountability measures. Then, in addition (and yes I am bringing out the time machine) now we want our own funding council for further education!

If we get this modus operandi then we can create the systems that are needed to support FE in the future. It isn’t radical, it isn’t at a huge cost but moreover it is absolutely necessary for the future skills agenda.

When it comes to post 18 in general, however, we need removal of bureaucracy, an even playing field between FE and HE and the accreditation of awards by professional bodies e.g. nursing, midwifery etc.

People keep telling me that bureaucracy is much reduced. I have to be honest, I don’t know where it has been reduced. My life at times is monopolised by paperwork, systems and other nonsensical returns!

So what does the future hold for us as a sector? I think change is now inevitable and we may see fairer systems and approaches through realignment possibly on the far horizon, assuming we do not see a purposeful derailment of approach!

Many colleges this year through the apprenticeship agenda and the competition for contract and funding have lost opportunities through both levy and HE dictates, equally where there has been success there has been much debate around the whole partnership agenda. Support for learners is still an absolute priority for us all.

The funding rule for 18 year olds is nothing short of absurd, the absence of funding support for adults with significant learning difficulties and the complexity of measuring funding and cash flow under the levy environment are significant hurdles for all of us.

I hope therefore this is a brighter and more tenacious future for all of us in FE pre and post the review of post 18 education!


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