From education to employment

Sweet and sour

This has definitely been one of the strangest weeks of my life, during which we received funding details for the future coupled with a national accolade from the Times Educational Supplement (TES).

I will start, however, with a comment on the funding news that started to emerge last week.

Quite simply there is a lack of investment in education and training post-16, with various strategies being considered for elements of protection.

Under the new regime our 16 to 18 year olds will have funding around £4,000 per capita, but when they turn 18 there will be a 17.5% cut. And for adults in general – with the exception of apprenticeships and Maths/English – we can expect significant cuts.

It is hard to predict, but on average any college is likely to see revenue cuts between 5% and 10%.

These decisions, as ever, seem to be made on the basis of student numbers, not the quality of provision being delivered. I have never been able to come to terms with this methodology – it seems to me that rather than serving as a catalyst for change it will serve only to demotivate.

Of course equality of opportunity is a joke in this context… Oh, to be under 18!

I suppose it’s okay to moan, but there’s no point in shooting the messengers. EFA and SFA can only divvy out what they get from central government. Nevertheless colleges across the country will doubtless be under significant duress as a result, and business planning will be crucial.

Happily, the advice we receive from the Association of Colleges (AoC) is superb. In our region, the South West, we have access to Ian Munro – who has significant experience of college management – as well as Martin Doel (Chief Executive of AoC), who brings a great deal of common sense and support to the equation.

Our inevitable difficulty, however, is trying to balance cuts imposed by funding bodies with obligatory increases in pensions and national insurance premiums. Add to this the lack of budget flexibility, and we find ourselves facing a real conundrum.

My analysis for my College in Weston is that we can manage the task, but only with greater flexibility. I think with envy of the freedoms enjoyed by those who lead academies.

Anyway – on a brighter note – let us not forget the pride we have in Further Education. We were delighted to have our achievements acknowledged at this month’s TES awards, where we won both ‘College of the Year’ and ‘Overall FE Provider of the Year’.

These accolades are nothing short of spectacular for my governing body, all my staff and my brilliant learners – let no-one say we don’t transform lives!

It was a highly emotional time for everyone concerned, but maybe for our learners most of all, and I’d like to share with you the story of one learner whom I referenced in my acceptance speech.

This young man arrived at our College from a local special school, and on arrival he experienced significant difficulties with social interaction and social communication. This was not surprising really: since the age of three his care had passed through a veritable maze of healthcare and education professionals – too many new faces, changing too frequently.

With the support of Weston College’s Autism Team he positively blossomed, progressing rapidly from Entry Level right up to Level 3 and then on to a degree in Music Technology. Most recently this remarkable young man gave a speech about his experiences to the House of Commons in the presence of over a hundred dignitaries.

The words above say it all for Further Education – we transform lives, we correct the inadequacies of the system pre-FE, and the difference we make is demonstrable.

The sour experience of the funding cuts was mellowed by our TES successes, and justified by the results every FE College gets every day of the year. The TES awards for me were justification of our great sector.

Paul Phillips is principal and chief executive of Weston College, Weston-super-Mare

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