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.

Congratulations to colleagues up and down the land who received well-deserved recognition in the New Year Honours list.

One person in particular that I have the utmost respect for is Burton and South Derbyshire College principal Dawn Ward OBE — she got a CBE for services to FE. What a brilliant advocate for the sector, vocational learning and hairdressers.

Moving onto the Skills Funding Agency (SFA), and frankly speaking, given its latest debacle in sending out letters before Christmas warning of clawback and errors in funding claims for 2013-14, we all deserve an award for patience and understanding.

I recall a similar pre-Christmas shambles when colleges were advised of the collapse of capital funding as someone forgot to add up and take away. It was a pretty bleak Christmas then as well. We were all assured in the aftermath it wouldn’t happen again. Well it just did in my view. Perhaps this is why there is such a strong emphasis now on English and maths in the sector?

More to the point why should we as a sector continue to tolerate this type of incompetence from the SFA.

We are continually reminded that as principals we are held to account by our governing board, Ofsted, SFA, Education Funding Agency, Higher Education Funding Council for England, auditors, etc.

A plethora of objectives and targets are set that we are judged against and hey presto, if you fail you’re under the grill with the commissioner or whoever.

But where’s the accountability for the SFA and who regulates it? No one it would appear, because yet again we’re in the dark.

Where’s the accountability for the SFA and who regulates it?

While I’m on this why is there still no funding statement from the minister? Apprenticeship reforms appear to be in tatters with the latest non announcement. Adult funding is going to be slashed, I predict, far more than any of us realise or expect. Everyone I speak to in the sector is generally confused, worried and unclear as to what is going to happen next. Many good and committed staff are leaving and morale is low.

I also saw recently that Ofsted is considering ‘double inspections’ to give assurance of the quality and consistency of inspections. Really? I know of many associate inspectors, some of which have been involved with Ofsted for many years, that have been advised they are no longer are required for whatever reason or circumstance.

What puzzles and intrigues me is this — I have many friends and colleagues who undertake work as Ofsted inspectors, associate or otherwise. Many are highly experienced and skilled without a shadow of doubt.

Some though, and let’s be honest here, are not current practitioners, have not worked in the sector for many years and are out of touch.

While I respect they may have plenty of experience and may, back in the day, have been brilliant, I struggle to understand how they can judge with integrity and credibility.

Let’s hope Wilshaw and co freshen things up with current practitioners and, critically in my view, current or recent leaders.

I know of at least one very good lead HMI who never rose above the ranks of department head and yet is now judging the leadership and to some degree determining the careers and futures of time-served principals. Inspectors should be current, credible and appropriate.

I personally can’t wait for the General Eelection to be over and at least then we can have some sensible debate with government about FE in this country and its true value to society and the economy.

Last week President Obama outlined his plans to make college free in the USA. Wow — imagine that. Of course, it’s highly unlikely to become reality, but at least he sees the value in what we do and would it not be refreshing to hear our politicians backing FE in that way. Utopian I agree, but refreshing nonetheless.