Through my work in the FE sector over the last 20 years, there is no doubt in my mind that further education has, and continues to, transform the lives of many young people and adults who otherwise would not have had the opportunity to improve their lives and contribute to society.
College staff, passionate about their work, inspire students who often suffer low esteem from poor achievement at school and/or difficult home circumstances and provide them with the skills, knowledge and support to gain good jobs and progress to higher education.
Often seen in the past as the ‘Cinderella’ in the education sector, struggling with old and inadequate premises, the investment programme in new FE college buildings during the early 2000s provided a glimmer of hope that FE was at last to be recognised for its true worth.
However, the last few years have seen constant changes and a decline in funding, resulting in staff insecurity and job losses. Some smaller colleges are being forced to consider mergers in order to survive.
Recent announcements of further funding cuts threaten yet again to change the face of FE as we know it. Headlines warn of at least 400,000 people being prevented from accessing adult education. The AoC say that if cuts continue at this rate, by 2020 adult further education will effectively be a thing of the past, there will be an end to courses which help people in their early 20s find a job and an end to GCSE and A Level equivalent professional courses.
Times of change invariably pose communication challenges. Colleges will need to rethink their communications strategies in order to remain competitive and viable in a crowded marketplace. Lower budgets will mean that smarter tactics will be required to ensure that the right people hear the messages.
The value of further education should not be under estimated. Student success should be celebrated and the dedication of those working in the sector acknowledged. The opportunity for young people and adults from all backgrounds to access quality education and training should not be allowed to become elitist.