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.
Is there a general election? Whither education, education and education?
Is there a general election? Whither education, education and education?Well, we’re all reeling from 24 per cent cuts to adult budgets, but has any front-line politician mentioned this? There are millions fewer adult learners compared to a decade ago.
It’s great that there are now a record number of jobs, but with low levels of productivity in the UK — the main reason for a lull in gross wage increases — does anyone out there think that maybe, just maybe, education and training helps towards improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the UK workforce?
Has every party given up on lifelong learning and the glories and benefits of learning for its own sake? If the UK is a knowledge-based economy are we supposed to gain knowledge by a process of osmosis?
The parties are strangely silent on this. Although they go weak at the knees for apprenticeships — ‘NVQs with knobs on’ (Functional Skills) — they still worry about standards. Assessment-based work inevitably leads to ‘variable practice and outcomes’ and they seem to want to give them to employers. Labour want to beef them up — all level three with a posh title (baccalaureate — if you can spell it do you pass?)
What’s wrong with the other 10,000 adult qualifications? Why cut this funding by a quarter when they cover the knowledge and skills that learners and businesses want.
What is politics?
Peter Hitchens called politics a “mild form of mental illness”; some wag said “it’s showbusiness for ugly people”. Groucho thought “politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies”.
We all want better public services like education, the trouble is most of us don’t want to pay for them — either through tax or directly via fees or loans. Politicians can’t be honest about how they raise money to pay as there are few votes in raising taxes so they pray for growth or run up debts and hope no-one notices. When you see ‘fully funded’ plans in the manifestos — be sceptical. They’ve no real idea what will happen next year, never mind the next five.
So why don’t they say more about education?
Mumbled words about preserving cash budgets in schools and the Lib Dems saying much the same for 16 to 18s, ignoring that post-16 funding rates are 25 per cent lower than pre-16. And significant productivity gains have been sneaked in — witness full-time learner funding from 450 to 540 hours and the £700 cut for each 18 year old — kept under the political radar.
At the very least they could preach the value of learning and encourage it. Do they really like FE?
And if the Government of the day (in this line of thinking Nicola plus Ed) promises an end to Austerity, why has FE been clobbered so hard in Scotland with their mass mergers?
My manifesto — aside from free beer for the workers it would be:
Support the FE sector — all parties make the right noises but then make cuts
Don’t pass money directly to employers — money is wasted eg the employer ownership of skills training pilots; they have their own training budgets
Sixteen to 18 funding rates — align with schools and no more funding cuts in cash terms
Switch other Government training budgets — eg DWP to education and skills to reduce waste
Have less hypothecated funding — leads to underspend or rushed work
We want freedom to follow learner demand, let the customer decide
Stop changing things all the time — Governments of all political hues, however well intentioned, love to meddle and keep changing what we do (which kings are we teaching in history again?), quality measures, systems and methodologies
Unrelenting change doesn’t help anyone. Like-for-like data and quality comparisons are lost over time.
Reagan got it right. He advised politicians: ‘Don’t just do something, stand there!’
This is actually quite profound and applies to the constant tinkering and change that politicians make in Education. Assign the budget, set quality standards and then let us get on with it!
But do vote — democracy is the least-worst form of Government and we get the politicians we deserve. Oh dear.