Authors: Ann Hodgson, Ken Spours and Martyn Waring - UCL Institute of Education; Jim Gallacher - Glasgow Caledonian University; Tracy Irwin - Ulster University; David James - Cardiff University
Since education is a devolved responsibility across the UK, the education system varies across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and can often be perceived as a complex and challenging system. However, when used in the right way, comparison can serve as an extremely useful tool in policy making to help learn from, and contextualise, good practice. This report explores the skills and FE systems across the UK to highlight the similarities, differences and opportunities that we can draw on to ultimately ensure best practice across each nation.
- We are witnessing policy divergence across the four nations of the UK. However, there is a strong case for policy learning rather than policy borrowing and for all four nations to come together as a UK-wide policy learning laboratory. Focus should be placed on developing good practice by tackling common problems and solution sharing to fit each context rather than simply transferring ‘excellent’ practice.
- Colleges across the UK will need to prepare for an uncertain future, including the impact of Brexit and the anticipated fourth industrial revolution. We will need to be ready to upskill and address potential skills shortages in key areas of the economy.
- There is evidence of unhelpful competitive behaviour amongst providers. Instead, colleges should look to build more ‘comprehensive social ecosystems’ and closer relationships with local partners such as local authorities, universities, schools, independent training providers and community organisations.
- Colleges across the UK should move closer towards a co-production model with employers. However, government policies here have often been through moral appeal and financial incentives rather than legal frameworks. Because of this voluntarist environment, in addition to the constantly changing policies in this area, it is unsurprising that employer-college partnerships remain challenging and something of a piecemeal approach across the UK.
- There is need to improve the funding, retaining and development of high quality lecturers and careers guidance so that the FE sector is on a par with academic learning.
- A key next step was to set up a policy learning network to continue the dialogue between researchers, policy-makers and practitioners across all four nations of the UK. This has developed into the Four Nations College Alliance.