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.
We’re just half way through the year already and what a year it is shaping up to be.
While the wait for the Skills Funding Statement stretches into February for a second consecutive and frustrating year, there has been plenty going on at my college.
There is some really positive and exciting work being done by both my students and staff and I’m pleased to say there is a general feeling of positivity and progress all round.
However, there is a ‘but’. Last week, I was stopped and asked by a staff member about the budget cuts and if I knew yet how bad it was going to be.
It struck me immediately that staff in most colleges are now so used to the annual cull and bad news that more bad news is almost automatically expected — and I found that particularly sad and worrying.
My college will, along with every other, experience painful and savage adult funding cuts.
Indeed, one of my vice principals has speculated it could be as much as 20 per cent.
But does it really matter? Well, yes it does, because for the last three years there have been deep cuts in adult funding nationally.
I found it laughable that recently the sector was commended on its ability to deal with this so well.
Personally, I think we have rolled over and allowed this to happen. Enough as they say is enough.
The idea of protecting the FE and skills budget has had quite some coverage of late despite being seen by the parties as one of the less vote-filled battlegrounds. Labour and the Lib Dems say they will ringfence 16 to 19 spending within the education budget, but the Tories won’t.
My college will, along with every other, experience painful and savage adult funding cuts. Indeed, one of my vice principals has speculated it could be as much as 20 per cent
This might sound a crumb of comfort, but it’s somewhat of an empty promise if within that ringfence 16 to 19 money can be shifted to schools — and this is a very real concern.
Especially considering rumours of around 50 colleges failing financially, for one reason or another.
Just imagine the national uproar if the relative number for schools was bandied about. Dr Lynne Sedgmore’s recent article speculated as to the reasons this was happening and suggested the affected colleges had been hit by a “perfect storm” — more like a hurricane in my opinion and we’re not through it yet.
Meanwhile, the college sector will go about its business — a business that seems increasingly to involve stepping in where others have failed or turned away from the challenge. I’m thinking of prison learning here and of academies. I’m also thinking of improving the English and maths skills of those let down by school provision.
So we need to continue to raise the profile of our sector with MPs and ensure they understand the value and worth of education by providing as rich and diverse offer to our communities we can.
Colleges always have and will continue to respond positively to government policy and change — we’re past masters at this.
Going back to the 50 or so colleges that are struggling, it must be crushing to colleagues who have worked so tirelessly and in some cases for so many years to suddenly find out your college is no longer financially viable.
Colleges that over extended themselves through capital projects are faced with stark choices as demonstrated by FE Commissioner Dr David Collins’ recent proclamation to sell off a site in his old patch in Cheshire. Dark days for many ahead I would suggest and some tough choices too for many.
Indeed, I wonder how many colleagues will simply decide it’s not worth the worry, retire or seek an alternative way out. I am conscious of at least four who are already doing just that.