Do we want a collaborative approach to the provision of secondary education in an area, or do we want a range of competing institutions? Few vote for the first option, but almost every single reward system (from funding mechanisms to league tables) encourages providers to behave as if we all favour the second.
I was going over all this again yesterday with a researcher who has been commissioned to look on behalf of local authorities at how well they work with FE Colleges. I was able to retail yet again the story of the Ofsted Area Inspection a few years ago which criticised North East Lincolnshire for having failed to pull together a single plan for all of its Sixth Form provision; the report was issued a few days before it was announced that three Academies were to be created by central Government which would include the creation of new Sixth Forms in places where no existing local plan had even considered having them.
She wanted to know whether relationships were good. I was able to tell her that they are; there is certainly a common mind and commitment about the desperate need to grow HE provision locally. But as soon as the local authority takes on the funding responsibilities from the Learning and Skills Council there is no telling in what ways the dynamic will change. It is possible that any imaginative joint thinking and working will become impossible if the local authority also has to be the objective even handed adjudicator between different funding bids.
The day before I was in the only Secondary School in the parish with many others to learn about and support a bid for a new funding stream to benefit the deprived estate in which it sits. It emerged towards the end of the meeting that only one such bid would be allowed from any local authority area and a Secondary School elsewhere in town was also developing a bid. It looked as if we were cornered into either losing out or enlisting the help of the local authority to seek to do down a different area of town.
The further picture from the mediaeval glass at St Martin’s, Stamford is of the slaying of Goliath, a reflection of the same image in various Biblia Paperum (picture book Bibles of the poor).