Christmas – what does that mean for colleges? Well Christmas starts early in FE.

Feels like it starts in the middle of December and goes on well into the New Year.

Students drift off, lecturers wind down and the principal does the usual “Principal’s round-up; thanking everyone for their hard work, telling everyone that they need to work harder, that 2012 will be grimmer than 2011, as s/he wishes everyone a “Merry Christmas” and makes a dash for main reception whilst they’re grabbing their passport, sun hat and tickets to a Canary island retreat…

Meanwhile, a large proportion of students are slogging their guts out at one of the busiest times of the year.

Work-based learners and apprentices working in hospitality, catering, hairdressing, leisure and of course retail.

These are not low numbers, these are learners in the hundreds of thousands.
Learners who will have no support from their college assessors who, like the principal are either sunning themselves, Christmas shopping or vegging out in front of Sky Movie reruns, quoting lines from “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

How many of you have the short phrase “employer led” in your prospectus? It’s not true is it? Perhaps it should say; “Employer led, but only during the Academic Year.”

The academic year was originally created for the pre-industrial era, when all ‘able-bodied’ young people were needed to help with harvesting over the summer.

That’s why it was designed around a long holiday in July and August, chopping up the rest of the year into three terms arranged around Christmas and Easter. Well, we are not in the pre-industrial era and colleges rely heavily on employers to keep their businesses going, but only, it seems on their terms.

What I don’t think colleges have got their heads around is the reality of competition. If colleges don’t do what they say they’re going to do, or offer the level of service that business demand, then others will step in.

We’re already seeing it – The rise of the private training provider and in-house accredited training. Training that meets the needs of the employer, whenever and however it is required.

If colleges continue to play by the academic rule, then they’re going to lose. They’re not going to find anyone to play with them.

Some colleges do go the extra mile I will admit, but not at Christmas, and not at Easter and not for a couple of weeks in the summer… Even though colleges are facing a very difficult financial future, their hunger for growing their business is not apparent.

Are colleges stymied by unions or is it tradition, or is it plain laziness, or… is it Christmas time a cocktail of all three?

Merry Christmas


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  1. I blame the schools!!!
    Joking aside, it’s very difficult to move away from a three term system when that’s what the schools do, there’s a whole range of reasons around childcare responsibilities that would lead to an “innovative” college losing a stack of employees who couldn’t fit the pattern.
    I also think it’s a slightly antiquated view of most colleges which do now run anything work-based on a year round basis, give or take a fortnight over christmas. Also private training providers have always existed along with in-house stuff, and often that’s a better route for certain learners and employers, colleges don’t have to be everything to everyone.

  2. Scott Upton

    Fantastic re-hash of anti-college sentiment.

    I can almost imagine Ebenezer Scrooge saying the words.

    “Colleges should be open 365 days a year and bring your own coal”.

    For the record we close for less than two weeks at Christmas, we are very much open for our apprentices, with assessors in attendance, for the rest of the year, including Easter and the Summer.

    I’d like to invite the FE Week team to turn up at 4.30 a.m. at a Bin Lorry depot to talk to my Waste Management assessors and the learners. See you soon – not.

    Scott Upton, Sandwell College.

  3. Bob Hayes

    ‘The academic year was originally created for the pre-industrial era, when all “able-bodied” young people were needed to help with harvesting over the summer.’ Ahistorical twaddle gleaned, no doubt, from Wikipedia. Go and stand in the corner Agitator: facing the wall.

    In the pre-industrial age education was the preserve of elites. The long summer breaks were to enable the sons – only the sons – of the elite to return to their country houses for a summer of country sports and society balls. Does agitator really think these sons would sully their hands with the harvest?

    This sort of sloppy commentary hardly befits a publication claiming to be, ‘written for middle and senior management working in colleges and private training providers’. But it may go some way to explaining why the popular media find it so easy to ridicule FE.