15 October 2018

I literally froze a couple of weeks ago, whilst listening to a report from BBC Education Editor, Branwen Jeffreys on my way to work. The essence of the report was that over the last thirty years, college funding had only gone up by just 10% compared to 60% for school funding in the same period.  It is common knowledge that funding has been tight for the last decade and that there’s a real crisis in funding. Despite this, however, as I drove on my long journey, the realisation that the sector had only had a very low increase in funding – in what in effect was my entire career in further education (FE) and skills - began to really dawn on me.

There are those who will say that back in the day, pre-incorporation, FE was funded well. On reflection, it could well be that as a part-time lecturer, I wasn’t close enough to the leadership and management of FE. Rather, I was probably much more focused on making sure my classroom delivery was of a good standard and that the Over Head Projector Acetates were written in my best hand-writing. Or indeed that I had enough chalk for the classrooms which still had blackboards in them, or a white board pen for the few which had a white board in them.

Over the last decade, FE has fallen further and further behind in funding terms. I had a member Principal who used to say we’re being “salami sliced” year on year and at the beginning of this decade, that is what pretty much happened. For example, huge chunks were taken out with mandated ESOL being taken away at two weeks’ notice. There was also the change to the funding rate of 18-year-olds and other such issues being affected. On top of that, we’ve had massive reforms in our apprenticeship policy etc. The effect of all this change and cuts in funding, is that the ones who ultimately suffer are the learners.

Much has been said and done to aid colleges, Skills Minister after Skills Minister has said the right thing to support the sector. However, we’ve had five since May 2010 and four Secretaries of State. When I talk to college Principals and Chief Executives, they aren’t looking for huge amounts of funding. Instead, they just need the right amount to provide the services needed by students.

What colleges do makes a huge difference to the life chances of tens of thousands of young people and adults. Without colleges in the communities they serve, there would be some real social mobility issues. However, colleges are having to really cut back on the support services they offer.  This of course has a significant impact on how they can support learners. From my own perspective, I am the person I am today, as a result of going to college which made a massive difference to me - despite not previously obtaining any O Levels at school. Being able to do a vocational course, gaining communication skills and then progressing onto a Level 3 Supervisory Management course, set me up to eventually go to university in my mid-twenties to do a degree - something I never thought I would do! I have since been able to teach in FE, run a training provider, lead great projects focused on FE and skills, plus have had the opportunity to represent providers, colleges and awarding bodies to government and their agencies. All of this was only possible because of Walsall College, where I went to at the age of 16 - they gave me a chance, when my school had written me off!

Therefore, for me, FE is worth every penny of funding it gets….and with the right level of funding it could achieve so much more. I’ve heard so much about the cost of FE - well I’m sorry FE isn’t a cost…it’s an investment in young people and adults like me and countless others, who with that investment can achieve so much.

This week is national #LoveOurColleges week... a pertinent time for colleges across the UK to join in unity to reinforce the importance of their function and role in society – both of which require colleges and other FE establishments to receive adequate funding. I am pleased to say that the Skills and Education Group, its subsidiaries and brands are full square behind this campaign. I encourage you to get involved in the week and to do your bit to support “the cause”.