Dressed up as an “efficiency” move, the real motive of-course was to reduce costs. To date, Tyne Met College has merged with South Tyneside. And the global player in town, NCG, has merged with Carlisle college – 64 miles way and has merged with Lewisham College in London
Patrick Ainley and Robin Simmons, lead educationalists, believe that the approach was short-sighted, ill-thought out and misguided. Some of the smaller colleges in rural areas, like Harrogate, have been subsumed up by larger organisations like the Hull College Group. This development comes hard on the heels of growing quasi- privatisation of further education. Who runs our colleges today? Are there commercial opportunities too good to be missed?
Since 1992 further education, seen as the ‘Cinderella’ of the system, has been hit hard by successive government policies. The Further Education and Higher Education Act, brought in 1993, destroyed many traditional community-based colleges, remembered fondly as ‘The Techs’ whose remit was to meet the needs of local communities.
To some critics, the leadership culture in some of the larger institutions is based on the old Soviet model with an unhealthy emphasis on ‘’fear and control’ with a pre-occupation on “empire building” while at the same time stifling grassroots initiative and enterprise. Some of these places have lost focus. Learners and apprentices deserve better say Ofsted.
Meanwhile, the “marketization” of further education, has led to Principals being re-branded as CEOs with eye watering salaries. A dozen top college bosses in 2017 command “double bubble” – Prime Ministerial salaries of between £200 to 400k with perks like private health care and company cars, regardless of performance or Ofsted inspections.
Organisations such as NCG and its neighbours the HCG and Doncaster Education City, till three years ago, had grandiose dreams of building massive education empires, some global in range with a notable presence in China, with discrete local colleges. Likewise, many of these “corporations” operate in secret lacking any democratic accountability. Governing body meetings, where and when they exist, are not open to the public or media. Most Boards are packed out with handpicked businessmen with no educational management or teaching experience. Few, if any, local councillors sit on these bodies and there is an absence of representation from the wider community and Third sector too.
A responsible government must take back control of the FE sector as part of a National Education Service. Six of 10 youngsters aged 16 to 19 (mainly from working class backgrounds) attend their local college. The promise of a better-funded publicly accountable further education service based on cooperation rather than competition; improved pay for teachers and support staff, cap on executive pay, a much needed remodelling of apprenticeships and vocational education supported with student grants would go some way towards improving matters.
Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin
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