Nobody could have anticipated what this last year has thrown at us. And what a year it’s been. On behalf of the Association of Colleges and the sector, I want to say the biggest thank you. I’ve always been inspired and impressed by the brilliant work that colleges do and the impact they have, but this year has taken it to a whole other level. The college response to the enormous challenges of Covid was to focus unerringly on keeping learning going, delivering for students, businesses and communities, whilst caring for staff, and each other. College leaders have had to make difficult decisions with no time and no precedent. And they did it all with integrity, pragmatism, and compassion.
But 2020 was about more than just COVID-19, because we have seen big steps forward in the way colleges are seen and positioned. We heard the Prime Minister give a major speech in a college, promising that our skills and our sector would be at the heart of his agenda, and there was new funding announced for next year for 16 to 18 year olds, catch-up funding, capital and adult skills. The new Lifetime Skills Guarantee first steps were taken with the partial reversal of the Coalition government’s decision that required adults to pay fees for courses that are free to teenagers. None of this is enough, there is so much more to do, but in any other year we might be more pleased with those announcements. Given all of the challenges, including financially, it’s no surprise that it is easy to overlook the wins.
I hope that you have been able to find the space to reflect within your organisations on all of the amazing things you have achieved this year. I suspect once the vaccine hits, the masks are removed, and washing your hands whilst singing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice all fades into a distant memory, we won’t quite remember just how much we endured and collectively achieved.
I always tell people that it’s important to reflect on how far they’ve come instead of just focusing on where they want to go next, but I admit that I’m not very good at doing it myself. So we’ve forced ourselves into doing just that this year, if nothing else, to capture a year like no other. We’ve put together a short video giving a brief overview of some of the things we have done to support colleges through COVID and beyond - if you have a couple of minutes, please do give it a watch.
We are not out of the woods yet, but I am grateful that we end this term with a vaccine in sight. 2021 will be full of challenges, including exams and assessments in the midst of differential lost learning and financial stresses, but for now I hope you manage to fully down tools, take some time to reflect, to celebrate with loved ones, and recharge your batteries. We all need it this year, more than ever.
We are closing down during the break, to give AoC staff a chance to rest and recuperate, operating on a skeleton staff from Monday 21 December, reopening fully again on Monday 04 January. If you have any emergencies though, colleges can still contact their Area Director, or me. And if you have any comms or media emergencies, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
From all at the Association of Colleges, thank you for everything you did in 2020.
Have a great and restful Christmas break. See you next year.
Chief Executive, Association of Colleges