Mark and Roger Dawe: Big guns who see eye to eye on FE's future

Having spent their careers in leading roles within the further education sector, this father and son discuss policy change and the secrets of harmony

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When Mark Dawe was head of corporate services at Canterbury College in 1996, he was none too pleased to get a letter from the government ending the glorious years of ever-increasing further education expenditure.

To add insult to injury, the letter Mark stared at in amazement was signed by none other than his father, Roger Dawe, who just happened to be director general for FE and higher education at the Department for Education.

Two years earlier, funding chiefs had come up with the “demand-led element” (DLE) to provide unlimited expansion for cost-efficient colleges. The cap on student numbers was removed for colleges able to recruit students beyond agreed targets at half the cost.

However, college use of the DLE was too successful, pushing the fund close to “bankruptcy” and provoking Treasury officials to pull the plug without warning. Not that Mark blames his dad for the fiasco. As Roger told Tes earlier this month: “No chance there of me changing the policy, as the Treasury were not too keen on the flow of money involved.”

And now, 20 years later, as post-crash austerity cuts do their worst, we find the two Dawes still in key positions of influence. Only now, they are definitely singing from the same hymn sheet: Mark, as chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, and Roger as the newly appointed chairman of the Careers Colleges Trust.

Dual quests

Mark is again grappling with funding chiefs over the “disastrous implementation of the apprenticeship employer levy” that left hundreds of top-rank providers without the cash to pay for apprentices on their books. Meanwhile, Roger is attempting to help turn around an area that arguably has suffered most from the unintended consequences of ill-thought-out government education policy: careers.

Given that all fathers and sons fall out, what is the secret of their harmonious relationship? It could be the way Mark was brought up, suggests Roger, who says proudly that he raised his son “in a spirit of benign neglect”.

During Mark’s infancy, Roger was private secretary to prime minister Harold Wilson and in the boy’s teenage years, in the 1980s, Roger spent seven years commuting to Sheffield, where he worked with the Manpower Services Commission. In this role, he had considerable influence over the reshaping of FE in advance of college incorporation in 1993, “so my wife bore the brunt of child and teenager rearing”, he says.

There was, however, the odd less-than-cordial moment on the domestic front. Roger says: “I do recall some differences of opinion, certainly on volume, when he used our dining room for rehearsals with a heavy metal-style group in which he was involved.”

This is an edited version of an article in the 2 June edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. Your new-look Tes magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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