Today’s White Paper outlines an ambitious package of measures, acknowledging colleges as vehicles to help ‘build back better’. But this is only a first step. Below are our key reflections on the White paper.
Setting a clear purpose and direction of travel with the FE sector over the next 10 years.
The original anticipation of a three year comprehensive spending review offered renewed hope for vital investment in the FE sector. But the reversal to a one year spending review has hampered its ability to look too far to the future.
As Edge’s recent research and policy reports suggest, Government now needs to work closely with the FE sector to develop a clear, positive long-term roadmap. We should celebrate a big and bold message about what FE stands for and display this proudly in our “FE shop window”. This should position FE at the centre of recovery both nationally and as anchor institutions in local communities.
We also need to see this message to address the false dichotomy between FE and Higher Education so that students are made aware of the breadth of opportunity and the possibility to combine the best of both routes.
Support for our workforce with a focus on industry interchange
DfE have renewed their intention to recruit talented individuals to teach in FE. But to raise the esteem of teaching in FE, recruitment campaigns need to be complemented with strong retention strategies offering improved pay and continuing professional development. As highlighted in Edge’s Education Technology report, teachers should also be supported to develop ongoing pedagogy and up-to-date skills to prepare them for new ways of working, such as digital skills and a blended teaching approach.
At the heart of this, we want to see FE lecturers connected to industry so they can remain at the forefront of their fields. It is good to see DfE setting out a vision for professional development, including a new workforce industry exchange programme. At Edge we are already piloting successful ‘teacher externships’ in the North East to improve workforce and industry interchange. We would be delighted to work with the DfE to roll this model out further.
Colleges working collaboratively with local communities and employers
We want to see colleges incentivised to work towards greater collaboration with local areas joining forces to identify and respond to their own skills needs. This is something we are passionate about at Edge and through Edge Future Learning we are sharing leading approaches to employer engagement, such as from our partner South East Regional College in Northern Ireland.
DfE have set out an intention to work closely with Chambers of Commerce and to establish new college business centres to drive innovation and collaboration with local employers. However, we need to see greater detail on what employer involvement will look like. We need to avoid making the system more complicated, giving employers the opportunity to engage organically as the system develops whilst underpinning this with a clear architecture for skills.
The time is also ripe for greater collaboration and sharing of best practice between education leaders across the four nations. Initiatives such as the ‘College of the Future’ will play an important role in fostering these shared discussions across the four nations.
The DfE have set out their overarching ambition and strategy. But what will this look like on the ground? We now need to see substance behind ambition matched with funding, action and long term planning. We look forward to working with government to translate this strategic vision into reality.