Dr Paul Phillips CBE

As our sector continues to deliver the skills agenda against the backdrop of a pitiful funding picture, you’re always conscious that the situation may go from the sublime to the ridiculous.

In the media we hear of unions supporting a move to bring colleges under local authority control; colleges being sold; and more bail outs of colleges – including that of the National College for High Speed Rail!

Quite frankly I am in great danger of becoming the ‘Victor Meldrew’ of FE.

However, in this instance, ‘I don’t believe it!’ is not a phrase from a sitcom, it’s a condemnation of a lack of purposeful investment over a significant period of time.

Faith in FE

My late mother was a tremendous advocate of education and considered being a teacher or lecturer as the greatest accolade one could achieve in life.

Why? Because in her era the teaching profession was seen as exemplary – one had pride in education delivery, and learning was transformational.

We still have dynamic teachers; we still manage to turn lives around in FE but…

So what exactly has changed?

What are the buts? They are the natural omissions from government – pride in education, investment in education and accountability for what matters.

Surely there is something wrong if one of my construction lecturers with all their assessment and industry knowledge skills can work in a manual job on a building site for nearly double what I can afford to pay.

It’s a vicious circle really. I take junior staff into a fast-track teaching scheme only for them to gain significant promotion outside the sector!

Yet, in my college we are ‘growing our own’ teachers of the future and we are equipping them with the skills they need to impart and empower learning.

I have a lecturer in sport who is so talented that he can be given the most challenging of teaching groups and I know by the end of the lesson they will be eating out of his hand in terms of respect, understanding, development and progression.

I interviewed a potential lecturer in IT only this week. The young person concerned was a little naïve, perhaps over ambitious in their actions, but the spark of hunger to succeed was there for all to see.

What a talent we have in the making – but to realise that talent we need income streams and cash flow.

Throughout the recent #LoveOurColleges week, we have illustrated the inspirational journeys our learners and teachers have been through, let’s hope we got the message through all the echelons of government.

At our college we are putting great effort into strengthening partnerships between colleges and meetings with industrialists – and Eddie the Eagle was with us too!

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We had a diverse set of activities lined up, which included a real focus on the needs of industry, our sector’s response to the massive mental health agenda, shared governance intel between colleges and a focus on partnership.

Will we be heard in terms of financial settlement?

I think the reality is that our voice is being heard, but Brexit has the opportunity to delay the key agendas for FE.

For me, however, there are three very clear pointers:

  1. We must maximise our resources not sell them off
  2. We must take control of our finances, and above all
  3. We must not return to the laborious and often senseless environment of pre-incorporation decision making!

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

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