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

Official publications of A level and other results, my first day back on site following a long period of virtual management and Welsh shielding- not actually over yet but quite frankly I could not wait any longer!

The examination results are by and large excellent and as expected - I expect some appeals as that is the external culture at present but the majority of my learners have already probably achieved the grades they needed for academic and employment progress apart from two subject areas which will need appealing!

As I write this article, I am waiting for ‘Points West’ the local BBC TV station to arrive at the College to cover our A Level results and I know the bulk of their questions will be around the process of grade estimation. The reality is that this was never going to be an ideal situation, but the Government are also between a rock and a hard place further exacerbated by the Scottish decisions taken earlier in the week. The use of mock exam grades to my mind to assist in an appeal process will achieve little - certainly when I taught A Level Maths my mocks were designed so that the best got a C this resulting in even more hard work from my learners who then delivered top grades in the real thing!

That aside, I have toured the campuses this morning and the Health & Safety systems are impressive, they told me I was ‘normal’ as I passed through the main reception- that’s a first, then I realised they were commenting on my temperature! Enough frivolity now it is down to business and checking all the rotas and plans for curriculum delivery and administrative support. We are using a mix of online systems and direct face to face for our applicants so as you can imagine systems are complex but very well thought out, by the teams responsible at the College.

Next week’s GCSE results again based on estimation are to my mind the start of a major set of challenges and that relates to what I would describe as ‘catch up’ of studies. The majority of these young people last had formal education delivery in schools and academies some 18 weeks ago, they did not receive the online ‘business as normal’ approaches from FE and we will need to analyse where they are on entry and put in significant support to bring them up to the required standard. We can do it, but I fear for the budgetary implications and the extra pressures this will create. Most of all I worry about the GCSE Maths & English results- we struggled accommodating learners previously but with social distancing etc this will be another world!!

So, are we ready for action? Our systems are ready and next week will give us the clearest indication around numbers and budget implications. Apprenticeships look to be badly hit and that is so sad given the sheer effort that both Government and Colleges/ Employers have put into the system. We are and we will need to ensure our business is structured to give the very best learning opportunities for everyone and therefore one should not underestimate the challenges!

This is not just a new year of new approaches for our College in Weston - it is much more as we embed a ‘new’ management team and set of approaches. I am optimistic for the future but also realistic on how I can stretch potential and achieve continued excellence across the organisation.

Equally with Gillian Keegan supporting our sector and you never know treasury starting to understand our work maybe change is on the horizon. One thing is sure there is only one sector that has resilience, goes above and beyond and creates opportunities for everyone… that’s FE and best wishes to everyone in and connected to our sector for the next academic year.

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

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