Former House of Commons Education Select Committee specialist Ben Nicholls is head of policy and communications at London’s Newham College. He writes exclusively for FE Week every month.
‘Twas the week after Christmas and, bursting with glee,
Staff and students returned to the Land of FE.
For those not in the know, FE-Land is a place
Where all can achieve, whatever their race,
Whatever their creed or their colour or clan:
All ages are welcome, girl, boy, woman, man.
And this Land oh so fine has particular skill
In training the young who, too often, until
They had found FE-Land had struggled to learn,
Or to study in schools of conventional turn.
These young folk find homes in the Land of FE,
And are trained in new skills — and often for free:
For to deliver such skills, whether in social care,
Or media, or history, or travel, or hair,
Resources are needed, and people, and food
And the government pays, which is proper and good.
And though in this climate no spare cash can be had
FE-Land holds the answers to much that is bad:
For the skills FE teaches, and the students it trains,
Are the way for the country to bear current pains.
These students — most vitally, the youngest we teach —
Are the way to secure a fair future for each.
For politicians agree, in their rhetoric and spiel,
That skills and employment will help the wounds heal.
But just before Christmas, as the weather grew cool,
The rhetoric went; those in power, as fools,
Decided to cut by millions of pounds
The FE-Land funds which can turn things around.
For the least-hit of colleges, the damage was still
Over FOUR HUNDRED THOUSAND taken straight from the till.
The students affected — the story grows worse —
Are those who the power-mad have already cursed
By the cull, at a stroke, of the old EMA
Replaced with a system which simply won’t pay.
They’re the students, moreover, which the powers decree
Must stay training for longer — and FE-Land agrees —
But a cut such as this gives a message so wrong
That the damage now starting will last deep and long.
It will weaken morale, will weaken provision,
Will weaken achievement, will further division,
Will damage the students already enrolled,
Will discourage others from being as bold.
The powers that be do not travel enough
To FE-Land, to see all the wonderful stuff
Which flourishes there – instead they prefer
To concentrate just on the narrow old world
Which they know: the world of Oxbridge and Eton.
The result: FE-Land being kicked, pillaged, beaten.
We know times are tough, that the coffers are low,
And that everyone must take a part of the blow.
But a cut of this scale will do the reverse:
Will make the recovery far, far, far worse.
So we make a loud plea to the powers, this New Year:
Fund and laud FE-Land, for the future is here.