A ‘snowflake’ with ‘vacuous’ thoughts: former sector leader hits back at policy adviser to Hinds

A former sector leader has hit back at an ex-special adviser to education secretary Damian Hinds after the latter said colleges are “too complex to run”.

David Harbourne, a former chief executive of The Edge Foundation and ex-senior official at the old Skills Funding Agency, accused Jon Yates of being a “snowflake who can’t stand having his thoughts exposed as vacuous” today on social media.

The reaction came after Yates (pictured above left), who advised Hinds until he lost his job as head of the Department for Education last month, published a Twitter thread entitled “five ways the UK is failing 50 per cent of our children”.

Among his comments he said there are “not enough great leaders” in FE: “We have some brilliant leaders and governors. Genuinely amazing. But not enough. Colleges are complex – too complex – to run. Plus they face extreme challenges with a board of entirely voluntary trustees.”

He also spoke of a “broken market”: “We rely on FE colleges competing to raise standards. Wrong. There is no market in the world where low margins, high capital costs & competition leads to quality. Why? Because only a fool invests in capital equipment if the upside is uncertain and v small.

“The result of competition and low margins? Colleges rationally focus on low cost courses. In other words not technical courses.”

Minutes later, Harbourne produced his own thread on Yates’ “bullshit” thoughts.

“I have been blocked by @jonpayates for calling out his bullshit. I will need to ask my twitter friends what further nonsense he writes in the next few days. (thread),” he tweeted.

“He said further education colleges are ‘too complex to run’. I asked if he would say the same about universities, BAE Systems or HMRC. ‘Of course not,’ I said. ‘This is bullshit!

“He said the only purpose of technical courses at FE is to make people competent to do skilled jobs. I said full-time courses provide foundational knowledge and skills, and that competence comes later, through experience gained in the workplace.

“I said it’s the same for university graduates. A degree in English provides knowledge and opportunities to practise, but competence as (eg) an advertising copywriter comes later, after experience in the workplace.”

He went on to say that Yates “tried to blame colleges for providing only 15 hours of contact time to 16-18s” and he “pointed out that hours have fallen because of cuts to funding since 2010 and asked him politely not to blame colleges for the government’s decisions”.

However, the former special adviser had actually said: “Colleges need more money. Imagine if your local school could only afford 15 hours a week per student (incl help with Maths & English). Standard practice in colleges. Why is Europe beating us at technical education? Partly because their students learn all week.”

Harbourne concluded: “It seems that Jon, holder of a first class degree in PPE, (a) knows remarkably little about further education and (b) is a snowflake who can’t stand having his thoughts exposed as vacuous.”