FE Heroes: 'We could have no adult provision in future'

Administrator Yvonne Costello, who has worked at Leicester College for 25 years, warns that FE must get proper funding

Tes Reporter

FE Heroes: Colleges could have no adult provision in the future, warns Yvonne Costello, of Leicester College

What is your name, job title and place of work?

My name is Yvonne Costello. I am an administrator for Leicester College.

How long have you held your current role, and what other jobs have you done before? 

I have worked at the college for 25 years this year. My title has not changed dramatically over the years, but the types of work have; from being in an area where exams were not important to now, when the curriculum is based around them. Before working at the college I had a variety of jobs from professional offices to industry.

How and why did you first start working in further education?

Throughout my working life I strived to find where I fitted in. Professional offices left me cold, there was no involvement, so I decided to find something more, eventually realising that the education sector was for me.

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Briefly describe what a day at work looks like for you...

My job is split between two different areas, skills for life and ESOL, where the students that I have contact with are mostly adults. Living in Leicester, we were in the difficult position of being in lockdown from March until September. We learned overnight how to deal with enrolments electronically instead of paper-based, the onus being on administrators to handle most of this work. This was a steep learning curve. 

With all classes online, we had numerous challenges, including sending students their timetables, assisting with accessing online lessons. And, being in a high BAME [black, Asian and/or minority ethnic] area, language difficulty is common. Trying to get students online has been extremely problematic; a lot of them have needed a great deal of help.

What motivates you in your workplace?

I am excited when helping adults to gain places at the college. I enjoy talking to people and seeing their enrolments come to fruition.

Share an anecdote about a student or learner who has inspired you?

When I first started at the college, I worked purely for skills for life (adult basic education, as it was known then). There was this one learner who I have never forgotten. He had such difficulties in his life and was made to come to classes by his carers. He would not engage and sat through his classes, coat on, with the hood over his eyes – that is if he turned up at all.

He did not care about his appearance and never spoke. In two years, with a great deal of help from a mentor and the caring and understanding of his tutors, I slowly saw this unloved, angry student lower the hood, wash his hair and begin to open up and talk to people, look them in the face and engage fully. He managed to find himself a job and become this vibrant, chatty young man. That is what inspires me – we change lives and give so many people a step up.

Do you enjoy working in FE? If so, why? 

Knowing that I will help students to achieve – especially when they have faced struggles, fled countries, or need a second chance – gives me a great sense of satisfaction.

What do you see as the big challenges for the FE sector in the next few years? 

There are many challenges to FE now, the big issue being the clawback of AEB [adult education budget] funding. Leicester College, through no fault of its own and despite our best efforts, will be hit with a £4 million clawback. Being in total lockdown has made reaching our targets impossible. This will have serious consequences for our provision: capital build projects for T-level provision are no longer possible, courses for adults may have to be reduced and the student experience diminished. This must be overturned if all colleges are to work on rebuilding the workforce of this country.

FE needs to be at the core of the government’s agenda. The recommendations of the recent White Paper must be implemented, so we can work with employers and work toward providing the courses needed, improving funding and making it easier for planning to ensure that resources are of the highest quality. Staff need to feel valued and paid at a good rate of pay so they feel motivated to work well and be innovative, and finally to produce excellent results you need the best workforce, so encourage top quality technicians/teachers to work in such a rewarding area.

What do you think the FE sector will look like in 30 years' time? 

This is a daunting prospect. If FE doesn’t get the recognition it deserves and funding is not increased, the results could be dire. I can see no adult provision in the future. Colleges will be for 16- to 18-year-olds only and those with learning difficulties or disabilities will not be catered for as they are too expensive. Capital build will be curtailed, and IT and technical capabilities will become second-rate and not fit for purpose. However, if the reverse is true, FE would be a thriving community of learning with 16 to 18 and adults working together and careers advice and advisers available for all. The funding structure would be clear and concise enabling forward planning; local employers would be fully engaged with the college providing the best work experience and apprenticeships for both young and more mature learners. Staff would be motivated and appreciated as they would be paid what they are worth. Colleges would be an integral part of education and learners would enjoy their learning experience because of innovative working practices.

If you were made apprenticeships and skills minister, what is the first thing you would introduce or change? 

The first thing I would do is fight the Treasury on the clawback of funding, then make sure that all parts of the White Paper were implemented, making colleges the best they can be. We are, after all, the future!

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