Formula takes away the fun

9th August 1996 at 01:00
"I'm not running away," Peter Harris says repeatedly as he explains why he is taking early retirement from Barton Peveril Sixth Form College, Eastleigh, this summer.

Mr Harris, 56, has been principal of Barton Peveril for seven years. Before that he was principal of Havant College, also in Hampshire, for six. He says that during the past 13 years the job has changed enormously, not always for the better. "While I'm able to cope, the heavy reliance on managing a dwindling amount of money has made it a job with less satisfaction than it used to have," he says.

He is a part-time registered inspector with the Further Education Funding Council and regards the inspection process as one of the most positive aspects of incorporation. "I'm not getting out because I cannot stand the FEFC, " he says.

He loves teaching and continued to take an A-level English literature class for three hours a week until the end of the summer term. "I don't think of the college as a business. It ought to use its resources in a business-like way, but it should not be in a position where it has to think first about the cost of resources rather than their use.

"Unless you teach you find more and more that a lot of the job is about premises and money rather than the youngsters for whom your institution is designed."

Two years ago, Mr Harris decided he would quit in 1996. In spite of the mounting problems, he says he is leaving the college in a "stable financial position".

Although relations with the local authority are good, Mr Harris sees the benefits of incorporation. "The degree of autonomy, certainly in the first two years, enabled the college to respond to the community in terms of growth. " Last year Barton Peveril had more than 1,800 students, compared with 1, 300 in 1993. It concentrates on A-levels and general national vocational qualifications for full-time 16 to 19- year-olds, but has developed a few adult evening courses.

But the 5 per cent efficiency gains now being demanded of all colleges will almost certainly mean larger classes while, he claims, the FEFC is now effectively directing the curriculum. Some traditional sixth-form college activities, including drama, sport and pastoral care, are likely to be under threat. "Everything has to be related to the funding formula," he says.

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