Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Drowning, not waving.

A few weeks ago, I received an unsolicited email from Ed Miliband asking me what I wanted from him were he in a position to form the next government.

I replied: A: Secured funding for #FE, no more cuts & investment in sector. https://twitter.com/fossa99/status/577535710321876992

I didn’t get a response.

This government and those who stand in opposition appear to have written off a substantial part of the population; anyone over 19 without money or qualifications. Can they really still say, as the Wolf Report boasts “our society believes in equality of opportunity for all its citizens”?

In 2013-14, there were 1.3m full-time and 556,000 part-time British students at UK universities.

In the same year, 2.9m adults were at further education colleges. 

Right now, FE is drowning: 20 of the 230 public FE colleges are in serious financial trouble in 2014-15. According to the Association of Colleges, another 30 could be financially weak. That’s 22%.

The Association of Colleges warns that 190,000 adult education places will be lost next year as funding is slashed by 24%.

Since 2010, the adult skills budget, which funds non-academic (university-based) education and training for those who are 19 or over, has been cut by a staggering 40%.

The AoC also says "Adult education and training in England will not exist by 2020 if the government continues with its swathe of cuts." 

The number of adult students participating in Level 3 courses - including BTECs and NVQs - fell by almost 18% between 2013 and 2014, and if funding continues to be cut at the current rate, "there will no longer be an adult education system remaining to support students aged 19 and over".

FE is traditionally there for those who aren’t sure of their path, those who stuffed up in school, who don’t have the right qualifications from school to get on the course they want, for 16 year olds who just don’t fit into traditional routes to university or work and for adults returning to education to retrain, to learn to read and write.

FE covers all the bases. We are needed now, more than ever.

How these cuts, this continual silent dismantling of an essential part of the Education system, the bridge that enables learners of all ages to learn new skills and take themselves out of the benefits system and into employment, can still be happening is one question.

The more important question is why?

Why does government seem hell bent on destroying FE, destroying any chance for adults to learn new skills, improve their lives and support their families?

Governments speak of reducing the benefits system, of providing nursery places from 8am to 6pm to enable adults to work; work how? Without FE to produce adults with new skills, training and qualifications, where are these ‘workers’ coming from to meet new industry and technology demands?

  • Are schools, Academies and UTC’s suddenly going to produce 100% of students with 5, 6 or 7 GCSE’s at high grade level?
  • Will careers advice in schools be so outstanding that every 16 year old leaves with a clear vision of their future?
  • Will every adult be able and willing to take out an FE loan to further their further education?
  • Are Universities going to be affordable, practical and accessible for everyone?
  • Are Universities the right place for them?
  • Will every adult learner be forced to take an Apprenticeship?
  • Can every adult learner be able to afford an Apprenticeship?
  • How will levels of Maths and English improve to move us away from 22nd out of 24 for English and 21st out of 24 for Maths?
  • Will businesses have to continue to invest in remedial training for their staff?
  • Why is there a reduction in choice?
  • Are we spiralling towards extinction?
  • Why is social equality, the right to a good education, qualifications and a well paid job not top of the agenda?
  • Are those who speak for us, speaking clearly and loudly enough?

The SFA waffles on that it is focused on Apprenticeships of the ‘highest quality’, but the uptake of these ‘high quality’ opportunities is declining.  

Even if Apprenticeship take up were rising exponentially, like a Scud missile of enterprise through the Education sector, why should the Adult Skills Budget be slashed and the whole of FE suffer just because some mandarin wants to put more Apprenticeships in place, that fewer and fewer want to do?

I'm not a Principal, a 'voice', I'm just a jobbing interim manager who has been in the sector for a very long time and despairs of the wasted talent, frustration and poverty that will result from current thinking. 
If they’re going to waste our budget on their schemes, at least use it to pay the existing poor Apprenticeships a living wage, not create more low paid unpopular opportunities.

And now we have FETL president Dame Ruth Silver telling us there has never been a “golden age of further education”, and making direct comparisons with the past is “questionable”. I’d disagree with that; as a reflective practitioner in a reflective industry, we should learn from our past.

If you can raise $78,322,520 (£53,383,063.18p) on Kickstarter for a video game (Star Citizen) then maybe it’s time we took Incorporation to the next level, learned the lessons of our past and be what people need us to be; providers of free education for 16+ students, to enable them to improve their lives.

If the government du jour also benefits from increased productivity, decreased benefits bills and a rapid rise up the OECD tables for Maths and English, then that’s just another example of our largesse.

We don’t discriminate who benefits from our work.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Tradition and Rituals: Baking for Love

I'm not Catholic, Protestant or particularly religious; I never really got over the feeling of being horribly duped, when, as a child, I joined the Silver Sword Club expecting to wear big hats with feathers and swashbuckle. Instead, we were lined up, sat on the floor and read to from the Bible by a shifty old man who smelled of moth balls.

I only went the once. Religion it seemed, wasn't for me.

Yet every Good Friday, I find myself cooking and eating fish. Tradition it seems, is important, even if the underlying reason for compliance no longer applies. Nowhere is tradition more important than the rituals of food.

I bake Simnel Cake, rich and oozy with marzipan; serve fish, crispy skinned and reclining on a bed of cumin and garlic scented chickpeas and onions, studded with tiny tomatoes & fresh Chermoula;  make Hot Cross Buns with plump vine fruits and dainty crosses; Peanut Butter Cookies that are sweet, salty, crisp and crumbly and eggs of every type; poached, hard boiled, decorated, chocolate as well as in neat, crusty bread sandwiches.

Is it the impact of a traditional childhood, a world that has now vanished; is it a need to cling to some outdated rules that somehow still instill order in our disordered lives?

Perhaps; each dish I recreate evokes strong memories of family, events, rituals and traditions. 

It makes me feel closer to my parents and children, recreating the symbolism of those huge family events; the expectation of chocolate, the joy of everyone around a table, elbowing each other for the best roast potato, the huge number of cushions needed to ensure that even the smallest are able to sit up and see over their plate to join in. It reaffirms that what matters are family, friends and shared enjoyment.

Recreating traditional activities, baking old family favourites, maintaining those links from the past helps draw the threads of days and people who are gone but never forgotten. A cake mixed in my mums old Mason and Cash bowl tastes better and is more satisfying, than one mixed in an easy clean glass one. Baking by hand, with a wooden spoon and a flour sifter, more 'real' than one in a mixer.

The large wooden table, stained with the activities of now grown children and their friends from playdough, plasticine, homework, kitchen chemistry and food spills, evokes pure Victorian sentiment. No matter how I would have flapped and shrieked at the time, that table is a map of my childrens lives and is irreplaceable.

These 'slow times' in our lives enable our emotional lungs to refill before the new term starts and enable us to mark the passing seasons in ways other than exam prep and predicted grades.

Traditions matter; they are the cultural signposts that guide our lives and whilst it may not be 'a religion', at certain times of the year, my kitchen becomes a place where we gather, remember and share, with thanks.