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The Opportunities and Challenges Facing Further Education

I started my tenure at Capital City College Group on the 1st September 2018. I am now in my seventh month.

I came from Shaw Trust, a charity aiming to transform a million lives each year with a current budget of £250 million. Over 70% of the budget was earned income from large outsourced government contracts and a significant portion from payment by results contracts. Many of these contracts required the charity to invest its own funds into the start-up and running costs of new contracts and this investment could only be retrieved by achieving the results claimed in the tender process. The charity thrived within this environment particularly as the payment by results model was refined and the start-up funding was partially underwritten by government.

Shaw Trust had a simple philosophy regarding any tenders funded by the taxpayer and intended to benefit members of our society who require a helping hand. We believed it was wrong for any individual or organisation to take profits out of these contracts provided that the charity, FE, or civic society sectors could achieve, at a minimum, results as good as any for-profit organisation. This meant that over a ten year period every penny Shaw Trust gained in surplus (over £50 million) was reinvested back into the community or will be used to further improve our communities. The owners and share holders from our for-profit competitors not only took out millions each year as a “reward” for their performance but when they sold their organisations they reaped benefits in the tens of millions of pounds. This, I believe, is wrong.

I joined the FE sector and CCCG because I am convinced the future of FE is at stake and that future will be decided in the next 2-5 years. The simple truth is that FE colleges have been too diffident in informing the taxpayer of the incredible contribution each and every college makes to the community day in and day out. The services offered far exceed anything we did at Shaw Trust and the facilities, teaching and reach into the community are better and deeper. This does not mean that the FE sector is by any means fit for purpose if we are to adequately provide for the further education learners in the future, but it is better placed than any other sector – university, charity, for profit, local authority – to meet the requirements of future learners and far more able to reach into every part of disadvantaged communities and society.

From my perspective there is no current financial model that is sustainable for FE and what we urgently need is for one or more FE colleges to create a new model that contains the best of FE, combined with the best from the profit sector, the charity sector, and the best from local government. I do not believe this model is in place at the moment. My view is that we must take control of our own future and be willing to partner in a way not previously achieved in any sector due to self-interest, ego, and an adversarial approach between management and staff regarding remuneration and performance.

If the FE community’s true worth is going to be recognised and the appropriate funding allocated there are five pillars that must characterise our sector and be consistently applied across our colleges:

  1. We must clearly be able to show the return on the taxpayer investment in FE and the direct correlation with employment and the ability to progress in employment. This will mean a radically different approach and a payments by results mindset.

  2. Our learners must become our voice, not the Principals, staff, or governors, or indeed government or the trade press. Our learners’ voices telling their stories and highlighting their success will not only be applauded, but alternate forms of funding will appear as those voices articulate their incredible journey through FE and into sustainable employment.

  3. We need to showcase the FE sector in the same way large charities like Cancer UK, the Macmillan Cancer charity, Age UK, and others present their value to the community. This will need to be a professional, transparent and authentic campaign.

  4. We should tackle the for-profit providers head on and prove by our results why we are a better proposition than them. Otherwise we face a continuation of the trend of salami slicing FE funding into a thousand pieces, leaving us unable to maintain, improve, and grow the wonderful resources the taxpayer has funded across the FE sector. In order to achieve sustainable employment for our learners, we must work closely with employers to understand and anticipate their needs so that we are preparing learners for real opportunities.

  5. Finally, we must not dilute the moral purpose and imperative the FE community has in our society. Bonuses, exorbitant salaries, and the number of staff not directly assisting the classroom experience need to be eliminated, reduced, or tied directly to what the majority of staff receive. Without the moral imperative it will be impossible to realign our curriculum and future services around those who will most benefit from further education in the future.

In summary, I have hope for the future because of the commitment I have seen from our learners, staff, and, Principals. We must be willing to ensure that any solution does not just deliver short-term benefit but stands the test of time, is sustainable financially, as well as competitive with a lean, for- profit business, and is focused on the learner. If we can do this, the future of FE is bright.

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