AoC Annual Conference Day Two
25th October 2019
Day two of AoC's Annual Conference Line.JPG Day 2 of AoC Annual Conference & Exhibition 2017 Video of Day 2 of AoC Annual Conference & Exhibition 2017 Line.JPG Alison Birkinshaw, AoC President and Principal of York College - Full Speech Firstly, let me say how privileged and humbled I am to stand here today. For years I have relished being part of the FE family, and I have admired from a distance the work of our role model principals and governors. I have measured myself against their wisdom, their leadership, and their legacy. So today is a good time for me to talk about this. To talk about the legacy of FE colleges,The major contribution to the thousands of students who pass through our doors each yearAnd the way this continues to pay back down the generations. The FE sector is something to be proud of – something we don’t say often or loud enough. In the Student of the Year awards last night we saw just a few examples of our impact. Take Rachelle Wabissa from Bath College, our adult winner. She has tackled serious medical and family problems, while completing her Access to HE course to gain a place at Bath University. Or Danielle Thomas, the apprentice winner from City College Southampton. She has overcame gender bias to be a boat building apprentice. Or Sophie Ainsworth at Nelson and Colne College, who despite long-term illness achieved excellent A Level grades with the aim of becoming a film director. The impact of our colleges on these and all our students cannot be underestimated. We all know this impact will work down the generations – and much of the time this is literal. I am literally here because of FE! My parents met at Chesterfield College in the 1950s and I was the result. Chesterfield College was where a teacher worked with my Dad at the back of a class for nurses to teach him A level biology, so that he could achieve the entry requirements needed for his pharmacy degree. And a Chemistry teacher arrived at my Dad's council house in Staveley to pick him up in his pyjamas and take him on the back of his motorbike for his exam when he had overslept. So I would like to say a personal thank you to that teacher who literally went the extra mile and to Chesterfield College for making all the difference to the future of my family down the generations. This we know is not the exception – it happens every single day in our colleges. Jeannette Winterson, in Oranges are not the Only Fruit tells of the teacher who she says ‘had some care for what was happening to her’. This teacher offered her a place to stay when she was homeless. You will know that every year many students are offered a spiritual, physical, and emotional family, as well as a technical, professional and academic ‘place to stay’ in our colleges. This is what colleges and staff have been doing for years and years, and will keep doing. Despite the funding cuts, the staffing difficulties, and the increase in the support our students need, there is not a governor, principal, or member of staff who doesn’t do everything they can for our students, generation after generation. So, I would like to pay my own small tribute to the legacy of principals. We all have our own heroes. And there are many principals, governors and others who I could mention. Forgive me for only talking about a small number whose legacy, for me personally, has resonance across the sector. I first started working in the FE sector in 1984 with a principal called David Moore at Nelson and Colne College. Many of you may not be aware that his legacy has benefited thousands upon thousands of adult students because he looked at the Open University and thought ‘we can do that’. He initiated the Open College movement, which has morphed into our Adult Access courses today. This is life changing for so many people. The Open College of the North West, born in the 1970s, grew into the network which today leads to university degrees and lifelong careers for thousands of students. The brainchild of one principal, taken forward by so many more. Remaining in Lancashire, who can forget the ex-principal of Burnley College, John Smith's question to every education minister at every AoC conference: when are you going to equalise funding for sixth form students in schools and sixth form students in colleges. Eventually his persistence paid off. The then government equalised down, not up, but it was a start. Ruth Silver, brought an intellectual rigour to the concept of leadership in FE. We know well her creativity, insight and resilience. It was her belief that ‘It’s the very nature of further education to change and to continuously redefine and rethink itself’. She was right when she said ‘We have not always been assertive enough, and that [It is] time to change.’ Another London principal, Jenny Scribbens, sadly with us no more and ex-principal of South Thames College, devoted her life to opening doors for adult students and promoting broader citizenship and indeed survival skills in young people. An individual who changed the lives of so many through her inspirational leadership. And Peter Roberts, Principal of both Stockport and Leeds colleges. He galvanised the sector into being assertive and speaking as one voice against cuts to adult education. He died soon afterwards, as we know, but left a sector with a little more financial security and one that had experienced the impact that could be made if it spoke with one voice. These are small, individual examples of what we all know. I could point at every single person in this room and am confident that each of us has a story to tell about the turning force of education. We all have our own role models and maybe we should talk about those much more widely, and at a higher volume. The college family does its absolute best to make these significant changes, in partnership with others – whether government ministers, businesses, local authorities, and, of course, individuals. We are asked to redesign our curriculum and bring in programmes of study and work experience almost overnight. And we do it. We are required to reconfigure our colleges, appoint more teachers and comply with the need to teach all our young people English and maths. And we do it. We get to grips with new funding methodologies, the apprenticeship levy, new reporting measures, audit regimes, HE quality and Ofsted requirements, Prevent, safeguarding changes, adult loans…the list goes on. And we do it. We work with the area based review in the spirit in which it was intended – to ensure colleges remain viable into the future. And we do all of this with a general level of underfunding which makes it almost impossible to provide a rich and varied curriculum for our students. Why do we do all of this? Most of the time is isn’t recognised! We redesign our colleges and stay afloat, because we want our colleges to continue to be successful. We want our students to ride the wave of that success on to long lasting careers that reach down through the generations. I am sure that we all believe in the democratisation of education, otherwise we wouldn't be doing this job. The fact is that education is liberating. It opens doors and lifts whole families out of poverty. The college sector does this more than any other. Each year we educate over 2 million people. We educate almost twice as many 16-18 year olds in our colleges than in school sixth forms and almost double the number of those who are entitled to free school meals. Around 700,000 students are studying on STEM courses. The average college trains well over 1200 apprentices and works with about 600 businesses each year. We provide the majority of HNC/HND and Foundation Degree courses, and for a higher proportion of students from non-traditional backgrounds than universities. And the payback for individuals, communities and the nation is almost immeasurable. Last year, David stood up here and said Brexit was an opportunity for colleges. We must seize this. We have a responsibility to ensure the workforce of this country is up to the job in the future and to work in partnership with Government to do this. David was right in his speech yesterday. Colleges are critical to the future of Brexit Britain. We must step up to deliver. This will be the legacy we leave for future generations. But Government must understand that we cannot deliver unless we are properly funded and supported to make our mark on history. Is it right that UTCs are given more money to support their inability to recruit at 14? Is it right that 18 year old students who are still in education, having been let down by the system in their younger years, and see their education reduce to a paltry 12 hours a week? Is it right that we lack the funding enjoyed by schools so that we can continue the legacy of life changing education for our young people? No, it’s not. And it cannot continue. This Government has a moral duty: To young people, to ensure that they receive the rich education and training they need to succeed. To adults looking to upskill or retrain for a new career.To employers who need a well-educated and creative workforce to enhance their business. This is a responsibility the Government must take seriously. The upcoming Budget, the Industrial Strategy, Brexit – these all give ministers the reason to invest in the sector that will secure the future of the UK. But colleges also have a responsibility. We need to work together to give Government confidence that we are up to the job. So, this is a call to action. I know our colleges are different. I also know that at times we compete with one another. But we should work closely together and speak as one voice to do two things: To trumpet loudly the fantastic work we all do in the sector for all types of student – from the Oxbridge destined A level student, to the adult returning to education who needs to learn English. And to get the message across that this cannot continue unless we are funded at a fair rate for a job that no other organisation does as well as us. So, here’s my message for anyone in a college and for anyone who supports our sector. So when we are tempted to criticise a local college, or use ‘negative’ marketing, we should stop and think about our family of colleges – and instead talk about the positive impact we all make, year in and year out. This is what I am going to do during my year as president. I promise to campaign actively about funding and the investment this sector desperately needs. I promise to do whatever I can to get some sense into the policy around English and maths. But most of all I promise to talk about the change makers in the sector. At every opportunity, I will talk about the fact that colleges and the people working and studying in them, make a difference. And I will do everything possible to make sure we work together and in partnership to continue the college legacy. It's not just about Ofsted Outstanding It's not just about keeping our budgets in the black, It's not just about English and maths funding condition. It's about working together to make sure that the breeding ground for enlightened and creative thinking is still present in another 100 years. It’s about ensuring individuals can be uplifted by the liberating force of education and take this influence down the generations. It's so that whole communities thrive and the nation benefits. As tolerant and inclusive communities dedicated to the betterment of individuals through education, colleges represent a microcosm of what our society might aspire to, and we are all privileged to play a small part in the college legacy. Long may that continue. Thank you for listening.