2019 Spring Term 1


  • Funding crisis: Crunch time
    This year will be particularly significant in terms of school and college funding, says Geoff Barton. With the government due to undertake its spending review, surely it is crunch time for education funding? More
  • Time to listen
    Findings of a new report highlight the role arts and culture education plays in realising potential in all young people. Here, Jacqui O'Hanlon from the Royal Shakespeare Company, explains why it's time to listen to what young people are telling us. More
  • The forgotten
    Chair of ASCL's Commission of Inquiry on The Forgotten Third, Roy Blatchford CBE, looks at why many of Britain's 16 year-olds leave school without a 'worthwhile pass' and the detrimental effects this is having on their life chances. More
  • Going further
    PPC General Secretary Dr Anne Murdoch OBE, a former college principal, highlights some of the challenges facing further education (FE) leaders and celebrates their successes. More
  • First steps
    How can schools best support early career teachers? Matt Walker from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) looks at the training and support early career teachers say they need, and considers the implications for schools and policy. More
  • Gold standard
    Epsom and Ewell High School is the first secondary school in the UK to achieve a gold award for its outstanding mental health provision. Assistant Head Chris Goodall explains how they approach health and wellbeing across the school. More
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PPC General Secretary Dr Anne Murdoch OBE, a former college principal, highlights some of the challenges facing further education (FE) leaders and celebrates their successes.

Going Further

The Principals’ Professional Council (PPC), previously the Association of Principals of Colleges (APC), was established almost 40 years ago in 1980 and joined forces with ASCL in 2014. During its history, PPC has seen a considerable amount of change in both the number and nature of FE colleges, and the broader responsibilities held by their leaders. 

In 2018, several FE colleges will be celebrating their 70th anniversary. In 1948, the government and some local authorities invested in the development of FE to help rebuild the economy. Seventy years in business, and for some even longer, is a major achievement, but one that hasn’t passed by without its challenges. 

Mergers between colleges and other organisations over the last few years have reduced the total number of colleges to around 300 across the UK (266 in England), meaning that there are now fewer and newer colleges. In fact, following major reviews and changes over the last three decades, such as the incorporation of the FE sector in 1993 – when there were 427 FE colleges – and Structural Reviews in the early 2000s and Area Reviews from 2015, at the time of writing this article, a total of 41 colleges have now been created from recent mergers. FE colleges now vary considerably in their size and offer. Few are exactly the same as they were. Most run a range of technical, vocational and academic qualifications from pre-entry to degree level, that prepare people for work and further study. 

FE occupies a unique position in its support for local economic growth, transforming the local and national skills landscape. Those who work in colleges transform the lives of young people and adults with just about every kind of programme of education and training, from those for individuals with complex needs, to graduate and post-graduate studies. Colleges provide education for approximately 675,000 16 to 18 year-olds, with an average of 2,400 students per institution. They also educate and train around 1.4 million adults annually (Key Facts: Association of Colleges https://tinyurl.com/y7x4oayp) with some high-profile alumni including comedian and actor Sir Lenny Henry, actor Michael Sheen and CEO Lloyds of London Inga Beale, to name a few.

Innovate and regenerate

Several colleges have earned a world-class reputation for what they do (WorldSkills 2017: Team UK strikes gold in Abu Dhabi https://tinyurl.com/yb3bdpm6) and some run very successful commercial businesses. Weston College in Weston Super Mare, for example, has taken over the crumbling and historic Winter Gardens Pavilion and turned it into a stunning higher education (HE) centre, providing programmes for a number of new HE students. The college has also refurbished a local hotel, regenerating it into a regional, national and growing international centre, both for people with autism and for training professionals who work in this field. Weston College has also achieved similar success in transforming a training centre that now trains employees from major regional and national companies including Rolls-Royce, MoD, GKN and Wessex Water. 

Dr Paul Phillips CBE, Principal and Chief Executive of the Weston College Group, said, “FE is a unique and entrepreneurial solution for learning and skills. We are pleased to be working with so many employers to deliver the skills needed for business to grow and for our students to flourish.” 

Heart of Worcestershire (HoW) College in Worcestershire runs a Blended Learning Consortium, providing quality bespoke online learning resources to all the colleges in Wales and around half of the colleges in England. At the same time, HoW college offers award-winning programmes such as Supported Internships for people who are struggling to enter the labour market.

Commenting on some of these initiatives, Principal of HoW College, Stuart Laverick, said, “If FE is one thing, then that is inclusive. Add to this, high expectations and a passion to co-create with business partners to provide innovative work placements and job opportunities, then you have the ingredients for successful programmes.” 

There are many more examples of the fantastic work that our colleges are doing, including those showcased at the Association of Colleges’ annual conference, bringing technological innovations to teaching and learning.

The poorly funded relation

In spite of the above, FE has struggled over the past 20 years to achieve recognition for much of its work and has been plagued by regulatory change, changes in policy direction, and a huge reduction in public funding. The AoC published a list of 22 areas where the DfE provides less funding to colleges than schools (see https://tinyurl.com/y73em97t). This list includes base rate funding, minimum funding levels, Teachers Pay Grant, payment profiles and VAT – all of which are less beneficial to FE. Further Education now finds itself on the tail end of public funding and fiscal policies that have failed to reward its effort. 

Incorporation freed FE from government control in 1993, but in reality, this led to more than 20 years of austerity for FE, which, as it is so closely linked to economic growth should have been investment. Even the much-needed capital investment in the early 2000s that encouraged the rebuilding of the FE college estate left a number of colleges with half-built plans and extra costs for which many have still not recovered. Successive funding and policy changes have forced some colleges to sell their scarce assets just to keep going. It is in those colleges, often through no fault of their own, that senior leaders are left with few, if any, strategies to improve their finances in the short or medium term. 

FE colleges, like many organisations in the education sector, are finding themselves in challenging financial positions; some are just about maintaining their financial position, some are struggling financially and others need to rely on the government’s strategic college improvement fund. However, one thing’s for sure, until the government recognises the importance of colleges to economic growth and the work they do in preparing both young people and adults for the world of work and for higher education, and then funds them properly, they will always remain the poor relation to other phases of education.

Support for you

If you are a further education leader and you need support with any matter relating to your role, the Principals’ Professional Council and ASCL are here to help. PPC members benefit from confidential networking, support and advice about matters related to governance and their individual leadership role. Through its affiliation with ASCL, PPC provides a full range of advice and a wide range of ASCL membership services – find out more online: www.ascl.org.uk/PPC

Dr Anne Murdoch OBE
General Secretary of PPC and former Principal and CEO of Newbury College

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