The principal of a large and well-established FE college writes about life at the top — the worries, the hopes, the people and the issues they have to deal with every day.

So it’s Association of Colleges conference time again. I think this is my fourteenth year of coming and to be frank not much has changed over the years.

The usual scene through the course of the three or so days is a few hollow-eyed and grim looking faces following the late nights being entertained by delights of the Hyatt bar for instance late on Tuesday evening is an exhibition in itself.

We were treated to a fairly predictable and heavy political assessment of our world punctuated with some talk about skills and education

But conference does provide some respite to the long and hard first term we all have to deal with.

Let’s face it, conference provides a mix of serious and intelligent debate together with some light-hearted fun too. The exhibition stands and staff from over 130 exhibitors this year vying for the attention of principals, FE is big business for many of them and they have a captive audience.

On Tuesday, we were treated to a fairly predictable and heavy political assessment of our world punctuated with some talk about skills and education. Talk of men in white coats got my attention early on and there were a few raised eyebrows later in the day when Gaganomics entered our psyche. I wonder how many people are now going to try and explain that one to staff on their return to work? Seriously though, it was thought-provoking and reminded me of a recent headline from this paper and a principal who didn’t quite get it right on social media. Bet he had a poker face (pun intended) when that presentation was going on.

Dr Collins had the majority of the audience eating out the palm of his hand in a way only he can do

Martin Doel gave in my view a good speech urging conference to challenge the politicians on differing fronts. Well that would be good but for some reason when Nick Boles sat on the sofa with Emily Maitlis following a rather dull and uninspired speech it simply didn’t happen. Emily failed to get the audience engaged and allow us to question him. Mr Boles started by saying how vital and important education is to the economy both short and long term but when pressed about ring fencing funding for 16 to 18 he became more non committal than ever. Shame, literally.

On the other hand Liam Byrne gave in my opinion a far better account of himself. Then we had Dr David Collins interviewed about his role as FE Commissioner and the lessons learned over the past year. A few minutes in and he had the majority of the audience eating out the palm of his hand in a way only he can do. I predict a knighthood within two years.

Because of print deadline I can’t comment on what Vince Cable and others will say but it will probably if not definitely be his last time addressing conference, I think without his firm stance and belief that FE transforms people’s lives and is fundamentally good for business and the economy our sector would be in a far worse state. Thanks Vince.

Finally, it was especially good to hear FE Week described by Emily as the “bible” for the sector. A little controversial maybe but pleasing none the less.