Dr Paul Phillips

As a Principal of a large Further Education College in the South West I never cease to be motivated and totally impressed by the dedication and entrepreneurship of my staff. Throughout the COVID crisis they have seized the mantle of digital delivery and their attention to the care of learners and their progression is quite inspirational. It hasn’t mattered at what level staffing has been affected, the response has been the same – whatever needs to be done will be achieved. We have been absolutely privileged to have Gillian Keegan the Minister joining our ‘Virtual Microsoft College’ showcase environment and our end of term virtual staff meeting was both motivational and inspiring.

My role as Principal has also changed and now, I feel I know my staff even better than before. Issues of mental health, wellbeing, staff morale and ensuring the learning is still at the centre of all we do, has become even more focussed and crucial than ever. I despair at those who utilise COVID as an excuse for why progress can’t occur. It is a tragic situation, but that doesn’t mean we can’t achieve and catalyse change.

I have no doubt that every Principal in the country will be debating cash flow, return of learners and hitting the ground running. Equally, I can for the first time in months already see a change in the employer response to the Government announcements last week in regard to support for employers. Now the phones are starting to ring again! This is without doubt part of the kick start/regeneration mechanisms we need and achieving such a momentum will be crucial for the future. Gavin Williamson’s perspective on the German technical approach is also interesting and clearly reflects a new take on the real meaning of technical education, and we are proud to be leading as an Institute of Technology lead for the region. Slowly but surely a new era is dawning – I really hope it is one that really shows the value of our sector.

Are we, am I ready for the challenge? Is attention to skills taking on a further refinement – you bet we are – our sector has shown that we can mobilise resources at an instant, we transform lives and we grab nettles. Do we get stung? – of course we do, we are pioneers of change and moreover pivotal to the future skills agenda.

Meanwhile I look out of the window, the tide is in at our College in Weston-super-Mare and the sun is shining. People in masks walk along the seafront, apprentices are back in to complete assignments and a team of cleaners are hard at work cleaning – the ‘sanitisers’ as they are being referred to across the land – which makes them sound like a tv series from the 80’s with Tony Curtis and Roger Moore. But to me they are the new COVID heroes, making sure our staff and students are safe and I thank them every day. This is our new world for the time being and I am exceptionally proud to be leading the momentum to ‘Build Back Better’. Will the new approach from Government work? – it most definitely will – not because of buildings, no because of dictate, but because of the golden threads of commitment and entrepreneurship from education staff everywhere.

To use the adage of the right people, on right seats, on the right bus, at Weston College, we are piling into the bus (socially distanced of course) and ‘the momentum is on!’

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

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