As specialists in employment law for FE Colleges (with some of the sector’s leading and most entrepreneurial organisations amongst our clients) we have naturally been reading the Augar report into post-18 education and funding with interest.
The report recognises that the sector has played a long-standing role of Cinderella to both schools and Higher Education in terms (or course) of its funding, but also when considering public recognition, clarity of purpose and credibility. Augar provides abundant and weighty ammunition for the sector in seeking increased funding in both the upcoming governmental spending review and over a longer term time frame. This will be universally welcomed by those working in, or involved with, the sector, although concerns have been raised in some quarters about the extent to which increased resources might be tied to more centralised control, with colleges denied the independence that many UK universities have used to such great effect. No doubt those of you at the sharp end will have your own views…
What especially piqued our interest was the acknowledgment that recruitment and retention of high-quality staff is a particular issue for the FE sector, and that that was one area where increased funding was likely to be targeted. There was also a recognition that the interplay between funding structures and staffing requirements add to the problem – with many roles only able to be offered on a short term basis.
Funnily enough, the report didn’t make any allusion to the sort of ‘challenging’ employee case work that we are only too used to helping our FE clients manage. Whilst every business can attract difficult individuals from time to time, it is fair to say that there seems to be a particular preponderance that comes with the territory. Whether the enlarged and professionalised FE workforce envisaged by Augar will continue to display that tendency remains to be seen – although it’s perhaps worth acknowledging that the university sector is itself well-represented in the employment law reports.
Over the years, providing legal support to a sector which is acknowledged to be in a state of ‘permanent revolution’ has proven to be fascinating, stimulating and (we’ll admit it amongst friends!) sometimes downright frustrating. We have all, however, developed a genuine and deep-seated admiration for the work done by the sector and the appetite of its best leaders to rise to the challenge – whatever today’s challenge might be. Whilst we would never view FE as anyone’s Cinderella, we do pride ourselves that we occasionally get to play Fairy Godmother and help magic away a few of the problems. We hope that our expertise and valued relationships in the sector will continue to flourish into and beyond the ‘Augar era’.