With notable past experience advising those in the corridors of power on FE, Roger Dawe outlines what he’d be saying if called upon for his views today.
Bromley College has been doing relatively well and has been diversifying into new areas — a Career College for hospitality, food and enterprise, the recruitment of 14 to 16-year-olds, securing approval for a University Technical College, setting up a Multi Academy Trust, establishing strong links with employers in the community and wider, and becoming a technical and vocational hub for local schools.
For me, it has been a new and exciting experience to be at the sharp end of FE for the first time. But it is becoming increasingly sharp.
Compared with some colleges, our financial position is good but we are coming under increasing pressure. Looking ahead, with the large cuts in adult funding for 2015-16, the financial outlook for us as for all colleges involves formidable challenges especially for our courses for adult students.
The increasingly serious financial position of the sector is not at all surprising. All the significant education and training expenditure cuts throughout the last Parliament were focussed on FE, both on 16 to 18-year-olds and on adults, and there are further huge cuts to come on adult funding in 2015-16.
It can be an uphill task inside government to get the right deal for FE compared with schools and higher education
Expenditure on schools up to 16 has been protected in real terms. Most universities have done very well out of the £9,000 student fee and are in a strong financial position. And expenditure on apprenticeships has increased and will continue to do so.
At Bromley College we are doing our best to link into all of these areas through sponsoring academies, through providing a large number of higher education places and through linking with employers on apprenticeships. But the core business remains, as it should be for a college, FE — and that is under increasingly severe financial pressure.
In my Departmental days in the period before a General Election the major task during the election campaign was to look ahead and prepare advice for incoming Government of any colour. Usually in those days it was sufficient to prepare two briefing folders — a larger number may be required this time.
If I were still an official advising whatever party or parties come to power in May on FE, I would want to emphasise a number of things. Firstly, the FE sector has a central part to play in lifting the qualifications and skills of young people and adults. This is absolutely key to the continued growth of the economy, to promoting social mobility and to helping young people and adults into apprenticeships, work or higher education.
Next, the financial position and prospects of the sector are more serious than they have ever been since it was set up in 1993. As a result a record number of colleges are in serious financial difficulties. There needs to be an immediate review of the overall financial position of the sector and rapid action to tackle the serious problems which have developed.
Then, and looking ahead, protection of expenditure on children up to 16 should be extended to young people aged 16 to 18.
I’d also want to raise the fact that 2015-16 cuts to adult funding are particularly severe and threatening for the future provision of adult education of all kinds and for the future sustainability of colleges. They should be reviewed in the light of the representations made from the sector. Looking further ahead, there should be an examination of the purposes and financing of adult education.
Finally, I’d emphasise the pressure on all FE colleges to improve performance, results and employability and to work closely with employers and the local community should, of course, continue but within a reasonable financial context.
I know from my Departmental days that it can be an uphill task inside government to get the right deal for FE compared with schools and higher education. Schools are more ‘political’. University leaders have strong political links, and most Ministers and journalists are more familiar with universities where they received their education than with colleges. So good luck to my successors working on the FE front — for all of our sakes.