After 18 months at Newham College, and a number of FE Insider columns, Ben Nicholls is departing the world of FE and skills in a bid to become the Liberal Democrat MP for Romsey & Southampton North. The identity of his replacement as FE Insider columnist at FE Week will be officially revealed in the coming weeks.

In a week when some of the country’s most senior politicians have left high office, it’s particularly flattering to be asked by esteemed FE Week editor Chris Henwood to pen a ‘goodbye column’ — although my own imminent departure from my Newham College desk can hardly rank alongside some of the shocks of the last few days.

Either way, this week does indeed mark my last (for the time being) in FE, after a fascinating and enriching eighteen months at Newham.

I’m leaving to fight a Parliamentary seat for the Liberal Democrats in Hampshire — the ambitions Chris revealed in his interview with me back in February last year have somehow come good — and, although I’ll still be working on various education projects, clearly the ‘FE Insider’ column has to go too given that I’ll no longer be ‘on the inside’.

While I’m hugely excited to see what happens across the country next year — surely one of the most unpredictable elections for many a year — and to run my own campaign, I leave FE with some real sadness.

Having only worked in the ‘system’ side of education before, moving to an institution brought a range of challenges and culture shifts, but has proven hugely rewarding.

I can only hope that Newham and the sector have gained a fraction from me of what I’ve gained from them.

For what my opinion’s worth, I am more convinced than ever that FE is perhaps the most important part of our education and training landscape.

It contributes a huge amount to our economy, to our national culture and life, and to supporting society’s most vulnerable, and yet remains consistently neglected and undermined.

Over the past 18 months, I’ve met some of the most talented teachers and managers imaginable, not to mention students who are quite clearly the future of our country (in the most real and least sentimental way that can be said).

That these fantastic people are jeopardised in their roles by an increasingly absurd funding system, and that they are presided over by far too many politicians who still think we’re just big schools or little universities, is cause for concern — but more importantly, for action.

In a tiny way, it is that action which I’ve tried to contribute to, through the brave and innovative decision Newham made to appoint a ‘policy wonk’, and whatever I can do to carry that on, I will.

But most importantly, my huge thanks to everyone who has made that brave and innovative decision work (I think!), to FE Week for providing a regular platform for my thoughts (rants?), and to everyone in the sector for the incredible work which goes on.

To be a very small part of that has been an enormous privilege, and one I won’t forget in a hurry.