FE Voices

Peter Marples

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We enter a new decade with the hope and dreams of millions of young people and adults within our responsibilities, whether we are Colleges, Private Training Providers, Third Sector Providers or indeed employers and with the promise of more resources from the new Government in the forthcoming budget next month. 

But, lets all be real, however welcome some new budget or increase to the unit of resource will be, most of it will continue to be invested in our Schools system where the political upside of success is much greater.

Everyday we witness the challenges of the sector, Colleges in severe financial difficulties (not just the odd £miillion), Private Providers either withdrawing from the market or going into administration, employer providers finding that OFSTED is not a tick box to access their levy funding and more and more issues with both quality and financial solvency. 

Yet we have a combined sector that has it all. Great facilities in many of our Institutions which if we are honest are underutilised, amazingly committed staff in all areas of the sector, access to local employers who do want to support all aspects of skills development and local political will, increasingly from the devolved Authorities that want to make a difference.

So why do we continue to compete, try and tear each other apart and create a system which is neither healthy nor serves the interests of our learners, whatever their ages and backgrounds?

If we are to really deliver provision that makes a difference to all the communities we serve, we must create something new – a Modern Skills Provider for the 2020’s and the new Era Post Brexit.

So, what does a Modern Skills Provider for the 2020’s look like?

  • Co-locating facilities with Colleges and Providers - People forget the first 8 Academies established by our former business were collocated in the local College and worked very well – a modern form of sub-contracting perhaps with the removal of Apprenticeship contracts, does it really matter?
  • Learning from each other with staff contracts and utilising resources – There must be many staff who are under utilised locally or where a new appointment is needed but we just don’t have the visibility of a full-time staff member
  • Joint bidding – How much time and effort is spent competing for local provision through bidding, either successful or abortive bidding- there must be a better way and a better solution for the customer
  • Curriculum planning – Whilst we are often in competition with each other, the realities are that we are not and a mature market combines collaboration as well as competition. 
  • Back office support – Sharing back office support – remember the initiative from the FEFC or SFA which didn’t go anywhere but there must be mileage in better use of resources
  • Sharing employer relationships – There must be a better way of engaging with local employer particularly as they will be needed with the introduction of T Levels and the 300 hours of work experience. I am now equally fed up of providers contacting me almost daily trying to sell me the latest Apprenticeship standard 
  • Engaging more effectively with Schools – The resources wasted locally by all providers, be it with NAW or general marketing to local Schools, all competing for access and using the Baker Clause or Gatsby as the excuse is both costly and at best mediocre. We can do more in a joined up local market

There are many more reasons to collaborate rather than compete.

I have heard lots recently why Colleges are treated differently to ITP’s and why this is wrong – its simple because they are funded differently, a financial memorandum and responsibilities that come with it. 

But our sector has the answer to its problems. Whilst funding will help, the capital debacle of the past 10 years has resulted in many Institutions simply building bigger and getting themselves into financial trouble. 

We must start the discussion somewhere and start to develop models that work for our local communities. What is clear, the ESFA won’t do it for us so we must start the process now. 

Whilst I don’t share the hysteria this week about the consultation on costing of funding bands, what is clear is there will never be an injection of any quantum to the unit of resource so we need to find new ways of being efficient and effective in serving our customers.

Peter Marples

This article was produced for Promote-Ed where you can join the discussion along with many other sector related debates by clicking here

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