Dr Paul Phillips’ latest education column

Dr Paul Phillips

Dr Paul Phillips OBE

The summer looms and with it the usual strategic changes for Further Education (FE) colleges. This year is particularly fraught for FE because we have changes in funding rates, the impact of Higher Eduction (HE)  in FE – or more likely the impact of HE on FE.

In fairness the picture is improved compared to a few months ago, but when you create your 2012/13 academic year budget don’t forget to consider 14-16 enrolments, the planned DFE funding reforms, the distinct lack of initial advice and guidance to young people in schools, the pensions debate and Ofsted.

Is it all too much? It doesn’t matter because this is the pace of change and nothing is going to slow it down!

What to do?
So what should managers in the FE sector do or not do? I would sincerely suggest that we should not put all of our eggs in one basket but instead look at new models of learning, and ensuring a diversity of opportunity. To succeed therefore, obtain a mix of provision, make sure it covers the 14-25 year age range and concentrate on building up the success rate. Once you have achieved this menu add some calculated risk so that your business plans are spiced up to maintain interest and ingenuity!

In my column this month, I must make mention of the abolition of the requirement for Colleges and training providers to employ professionally qualified teachers. I can remember my own training at Cardiff University back in 1982 where I and colleagues spent some sixteen weeks spread over two years learning how to become good teachers.

In those days the pre-requisite for success was some innate ability in teaching coupled with the ability to create good acetates for the overhead projector (OHP). I enjoyed those weeks, the feeling of camaraderie, those long lunches in the Woodville Public House and the outrageous personalities of some of my tutors.

I was focused in my approach but equally I felt that I was a good teacher before and after my training period. The new proposals which would appear to leave the discretion to the employer are to my mind full of risk.

Why? Well, it comes down to professionalism. The FE sector fought long and hard to gain parity with the school sector. It would be interesting to know the level of debate behind such decisions. I ask because there is just a nagging doubt here as to the extent to which Ofsted and other bodies have been consulted about this.

What is clear is that as a minimum, colleges will have to run their own teaching schemes. The review does put forward justification for abolishing the qualification by comparing the situation to ‘voluntary’ training in Higher Education! Once again you have to ask about the involvement of Further Education in these decisions – I think many of us were seeking an element of reform but a deregulation of teacher training was never on the horizon. For those of you interested in the full range of analysis and proposals then look at the Lord Lingfield review of FE professionalism. It also reminds me of that phrase ‘Be careful of what you ask for’!

No change at Weston College
In all reality for staff and students at Weston College the agenda will not change because Ofsted will continue to inspect us and within that process will be analysis to check that professional training and updating is excellent. The continued success of the College is based on having superb teachers who will bring out the very best for our learners.

Last week we held a series of Parents’ Evenings at all of our three campuses and the turnout and response was fantastic. As one parent remarked to me, her whole family had studied at Weston College over the last eight years and their learning experience was outstanding. At a time when young people need very precise support in planning their futures the College will ensure that it is the guidance services, the resources to maintaining outstanding learning opportunities.

Most recently local schools in Weston-super-Mare together with the College, NHS, University of West of England and the Creative Industries Sector proposed a new model of learning for the future. The concept was discussed with key people from the Department of Education and others last week. The camaraderie and partnership between all these organisations together with the support of North Somerset Council gave me great confidence in the future of learners across North Somerset.