Time to budget

Further education is a funny place to be at the best of times, but this time of year it’s always testing and leaves most principals mentally exhausted, not to mention bereft of humour.

The budget of course and, sadly, the more-often-than-not resulting cost savings that prove necessary along with the dreaded reorganisation and redundancies.

There has been much said and written of late about the fate of colleges up and down the land slipping from lofty heights either because the finances have gone to pot or Ofsted grades have worsened — and in some isolated cases both.

Indeed even the mighty 157 Group has had its casualties. So when last week I received, as all principals and chairs of governors did, a letter from FE Commissioner Dr David Collins, it read as a gloomy reminder of what can and is happening to colleges.

Let’s face it, it’s a tough and often lonely job being a principal — constantly being reminded of what fate lays in store for you should you fall from grace.

Loans opportunity

The current adult funding regime and methodology has been geared to save the government money, of course, however the introduction of 24+ advanced learning loans is in my view an opportunity for most colleges to increase income to offset the decrease in adult funding.

There is a downside however, and the process and, critically, the time it takes for the decision on the loan is not always as smooth and quick as it should be.

What’s clear is that loans are the shape of the future for most adult funding and I suspect the gap that currently exists for 19 to 24-year-olds will soon be plugged.

I like the loans system — it puts the emphasis on the college to be more competitive and customer-focused, which can’t be a bad thing in my view.

Gazelle

The recent FE Week article on Gazelle got me thinking. While almost without exception most principals aspire to create a culture and ethos of entrepreneurship for students and indeed the college itself, does it really require paid membership to a group to do this?

Money is tight for everyone, but handing out significant sums of public money to become a member college seems to be slightly perverse in a sector where sharing good practice, collaboration and expertise is the norm — or is it?

I’m not sure who really benefits although to be fair and balanced, some of the member colleges have been cited by our cheery friends from Ofsted as improving.

Adult Learner’s Week

I couldn’t go on without saying how pleasing it was recently to see the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (Niace) pull out all the stops for Adult Learners’ Week.

Well done David Hughes [Niace chief executive] and the team and thank you.

My own college put on a range of activities and events and what was genuinely gratifying was the passion and enthusiasm of everyone who took part.

Adult learning changes people’s lives. It transforms individuals and families and enables them to accomplish so much. I feel so humbled when I meet and see people from all walks of life, ethnicity, religion, and gender trust the college with their futures.

We should lobby harder for adult leaning and protect the funding going forward — it’s our duty to the future generation of adult learners.

Budget, again

Well, one more board meeting for the year — the final budget ready; hopes and dreams for the year ahead; many happy and successful students finishing up; and, staff looking forward to the well-earned holidays. Which reminds me, I really must book something soon.

Principals, enjoy your summer — you also deserve a rest. Forget about Mr Gove, Dr Collins, politicians and policy-makers. Worry not about Ofsted (well, at least for now) and forget the finances… oh, by the way, how are the application numbers looking?

See you in September for another fun-packed year.

The Secret Pricipal features on the last Monday of every month