'A no-brainer!' Funding, or lack of it, is FE's biggest battle in 2010

8th January 2010 at 00:00
The FE Focus asked the sector's leaders for their thoughts on the next 12 months

Seldom has further education's year ahead looked as challenging as 2010 - with its heady mix of budget cuts, funding and planning upheavals, and a possible change of government. So, mindful that the sector is still reeling from 2009's capital funding fiasco and the problems with Train to Gain, it was with some trepidation that FE Focus asked the sector's leaders for their thoughts on the next 12 months

BARRY LOVEJOY, Head of FE for the University and College Union

- Biggest challenge

A no-brainer! The sector is facing pound;340 million of "efficiency savings" that are a huge threat to staff jobs and the quality of education provided to students. Despite the Prime Minister's warm words that education would be protected during the recession, it is hard to see how frontline services are going to be protected.

- Biggest risk

We are in the most challenging funding environment for years and there is a real danger that colleges will adopt knee-jerk slash-and-burn policies for courses and jobs.

I am also deeply concerned that some managers will look to worsen conditions of service for staff by introducing more associate teaching roles. Students and the communities served by colleges risk cuts in both quantity and quality of provision.

- Measure of success

In the face of these challenges I will be pleased if the University and College Union manages to minimise compulsory redundancies through its negotiating and campaigning activity. We will continue to be a voice for the sector and, to safeguard quality provision, make headway in ensuring adequate contractual safeguards are extended to all staff.

PAT BACON, President of the Association of Colleges and principal of St Helens College

- Biggest challenge

The key challenges we face arise from the uncertainties around machinery of government changes, the impact of the recession on public sector finances and the general election. These demand a clear focus on protecting the choices of students, defending our autonomy and ensuring that government policy reflects the rich and diverse contribution of colleges.

- Biggest risk

The stakes are high, with some colleges already being destabilised by the capital and revenue fallout of the Learning and Skills Council (LSC).

Early signs show that the Association of Colleges (AoC) is making progress but the risk is that talented college leaders decide they have battled long enough and leave. Failure to achieve a fair funding settlement disadvantages the very communities we serve.

- Measure of success

The acid test will be my ability to help build a first-class membership service, providing an authoritative voice for our learners, staff and communities and building the respect that colleges deserve. I will know whether I have succeeded from membership feedback and the level of trust our politicians place in us to deliver. The prize is autonomy, flexibility of funding and, as ever, high levels of satisfaction from our students.

- Pat Bacon writes in her capacity as president of the AoC

DAVID COLLINS, Chief executive of the Learning and Skills Improvement Service

- Biggest challenge

The biggest challenge will be in keeping the drive forward on quality improvement at a time when many colleges and training providers are struggling financially.

Everybody will be expected to deliver more for less - and the Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS) is no exception.

A pound;50 million-plus budget cut is certainly an encouragement!

- Biggest risk

The greatest risk is probably too many priorities and a sector that is already stretched.

LSIS needs to be able to call on the expertise that the sector has to become fully sector-led and sector-owned and that is not going to be easy at a time when there are so many other issues to address.

- Measure of success

Our key measure of success would be a fully engaged sector supporting each other in accelerating the drive for excellence - with increasing learner success rates and levels of employability.

And of course there would be no failing providers and nobody coasting!

TONI FAZAELI, Chief executive of the Institute for Learning

- Biggest challenge

Reductions in public spending present big challenges. Teachers and trainers help millions of young people and adults enter or progress in work, and create the basis for new enterprises. The Institute for Learning (IfL) believes frontline teaching and training demands first call on public investment; it yields a good return.

- Biggest risk

My message to the party(ies) in power is that lack of policy focus and leadership's protection of teaching and training is a risk to economic recovery. Quality teaching is sacrosanct.

- Measure of success

Last year, 92 per cent of our members were satisfied with the benefits from IfL. One measure of success in 2010 will be building on this. A second will be the professional status of Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills, conferred by IfL, being recognised for teaching in schools, helping all young people flourish. A third measure will be more varied and effective professional development for teachers and trainers so that all learners have up-to-date, brilliant teaching and training.

GRAHAM HOYLE, Chief executive of the Association of Learning Providers

- Biggest challenge

With the cuts in budgets expected after 201011, we want the main political parties to stay committed to an employment and skills funding framework which is built around a demand-led market and completely open to good-performing providers from the private, public and voluntary sectors.

- Biggest risk

One challenge, unchanged from this year, is to ensure that the local authorities who will be responsible for 14-19 learning and skills provision have independent work-based learning providers firmly on their radar.

- Measure of success

We should know by the end of 2010 whether the new government has protected the interests of employers and individual learners by resisting calls for ring-fenced budgets and by committing to the introduction of adult skills accounts that can be used with any approved provider in respect of any FE and skills budget.

JOHN FREEMAN, Director of the React Programme, the local government scheme for the transfer of funding for 16-19 education to local authorities in April 2010

- Biggest challenge

We must all focus on what we are trying to achieve; a more joined-up, more locally owned system that will be responsive both to the needs of learners and the economy. We must build a system in which we all work together - the motto must be "done with", not "done to" or, even worse, "done over"!

- Biggest risk

We need a "soft landing" in April - colleges paid and learners taught. But we also need a new system that develops strategically towards full participation in 2013. If we focus only on the mechanisms and systems, and what we need to do urgently, we will lose a huge opportunity.

- Measure of success

We will have succeeded if we have business as usual for learners, schools and colleges, while stimulating a national debate about how we should reconfigure the 16-19 system to meet the needs of all young people.

DR ALISON BIRKINSHAW, Chair of the FE Reputation Strategy Group and principal of York College

- Biggest challenge

The FE sector is becoming increasingly complex and financially strained and there will be pressure on individual and institutional members of the FE Reputation Strategy Group (FERSG). The group is doing good work to raise the reputation of the sector, and we must find a way for this to continue.

- Biggest risk

The pressures on funding, unless managed carefully, may prove a risk to the reputation of the sector. The FERSG needs to work with local authorities, the Government, the Skills Funding Agency and the Young People's Learning Agency to ensure that we raise awareness of issues impacting directly on reputation.

- Measure of success

The reputation of the sector has improved. If this continues, then increased recruitment, improvements in quality and financial stability will lead to a streamlined regulatory system. Those working in the sector will act as advocates without prompting, as will our students. Put simply, FERSG will no longer need to exist.

- Dr Birkinshaw writes in her capacity as chair of the FERSG

FRANK MCLOUGHLIN, Chair of the 157 Group and principal of City and Islington College

- Biggest challenge

Colleges are the education success story of the last 10 years. The biggest challenge is to maintain the momentum and provide outstanding outcomes for our learners and our communities.

But we need to do more than that. We need to create a vision for where colleges could be in the next 10 years.

Autonomous organisations drive out results. The recognition of this in (the Government's strategy) Skills for Growth is very welcome.

- Biggest risk

Colleges face enormous financial challenges. However, we have always been adept at doing more with less. We must work together in new organisational arrangements to ensure that we operate in the most efficient and effective way.

- Measure of success

Survival will be a measure of success for many colleges. We must demonstrate that we can work together as a sector to support each other to survive, thrive and fulfil our mission as essential assets for social cohesion and economic regeneration.

Frank McLoughlin writes in his capacity as chair of the 157 Group.

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