Speaking up for 16-19 year olds

SFCA Summer Conference 2015

Our Sixth Form College Association conference is always a great opportunity to meet old friends, make new friends, share our fears and frustrations, hopes and joys, find comfort and support from colleagues across the country. We have an interesting and varied programme which we hope meets your needs.

It is also an opportunity to celebrate our great SFCA team and to thank them for their work, amongst other things this year they have:

  • Negotiated a new pay and conditions framework and helped us to maintain good industrial relations.
  • Made a strong case for the broad, high quality curriculum which 16-19 year olds need.
  • Raised our profile and lobbied powerfully against the funding cuts and inequities which make such a curriculum increasingly difficult to offer.

It is also an opportunity to remind ourselves what a broad and diverse sector we are and the things we are most proud of:

  • Our popularity and success, based on our excellent staff and their commitment to young people’s education
  • The quality, breadth and cost-effectiveness of our offer
  • Our contribution to social mobility and social cohesion
  • Our contribution to innovation and partnership in our communities

We are not the only sixth form providers in England but taken as a whole our contribution is remarkable. We have a lot to be proud of.

But as we gather here, we also need to recognise that this is an uncomfortable time for us and we are in an uncomfortable place. 16-19 year olds are the lowest funded learners in our whole education system. We are funded from a small unprotected budget within a large departmental budget which is mostly protected. We face increased competition in a context where we often feel overlooked. It sometimes seems that England’s public provision for 16-19 year olds amounts to less than the sum of its parts rather than more.

So we clearly have to engage with government and listen to what they expect of us while also being clear what we can offer them. We must not be victims of government policy, passive observers begging for some influence. We have great strengths to draw on. We need to find new ways to make the most of those strengths. I think we have only scratched the surface of what we could achieve by working together; between ourselves and with other partners.

At a time of fragmented and fragile sixth form provision, we are well placed to champion the cause of 16-19 education. If we don’t speak up for the education of all of England’s 16-19 year olds, who will?

We have the expertise and track record in our local areas and across England. We could help to build and lead a national movement to provide the best possible education for all of England’s 16-19 year olds and I think this conference offers us a good opportunity start discussing what that might look like.

Opening speech at the Sixth Form Colleges Association Summer Conference

NCTL, Nottingham 17th June 2015

About Eddie Playfair

I am a Senior Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges (AoC) having previously been a college principal for 16 years and a teacher before that. I live in East London and I blog in a personal capacity about education and culture. I also tweet at @eddieplayfair
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