What is the future for post-16 education?

Future

Blog by Sally Dicketts, Group Chief Executive, Activate Learning
Follow me on twitter @sallydicketts

There is no shortage of speculation about the future of our education system. This is particularly true for the further education sector, which has been through a turbulent period of late.

Once all the waves of the government’s area-based reviews are complete, it is likely that we will have a much smaller, or at least a more concentrated, vocational provision.

At the same time we await the full details of the first skills white paper to be published in a decade, due out later this month. This is likely to outline around up to 20 new technical professional routes into employment, in a bid to improve the clarity and quality of the vocational offer.

To truly answer questions about what the future holds, I believe that we must first revisit the purpose of education.

My proposition is that education is designed to create able individuals who are curious, challenging and open to learning throughout their lives. These individuals should be equipped to work effectively as part of a team and make a valuable contribution to their organisations and wider society.

If we are to realise this aim, we need to understand how people learn. We must recognise how the brain works, how and why people are motivated to learn and the emotional roadblocks that can derail them.

From these foundations we can create the right environment for effective learning.

This leads me to maintain that two types of post-16 education are as important as they have ever been.

The first is vocational.

Vocational learners do not wish to engage in academic study for the sake of studying itself.  These learners need to see the relevance and purpose of new skills and knowledge through clear connections with their employment context. Vocational learners value employer relationships and practical approaches – the majority of them attend further education colleges.

The second is academic. Academic learners enjoy the rigour and process of learning. They are passionate about their subjects and enjoy acquiring new knowledge without too much concern for its eventual application. These learners tend to follow an A-level route within their local school.

In this context, neither route should be valued above the other, but should simply offer the choice required to ensure that every individual succeeds in realising their potential.

If we accept this – and can convince our government, employers, parents and young people of it – our focus for vocational education then needs to be on raising standards so that our offering becomes truly world class.

By 2022, I believe that vocational further education will need to offer the following in order to be successful:

  • Employer endorsed and co-created curricula that meets the needs of industry and develops relevant skills, behaviours and attitudes in its learners
  • A rigorous framework to recognise and measure professional behaviours, so that learners develop the soft as well as the technical skills demanded by employers
  • Clear career pathways that are used at the point of entry and throughout the learner’s journey, to ensure that they are clear about their future options and the steps required to attain their goals
  • Learning programmes that are time bound, based on individuals’ needs rather than arbitrary funding methodologies
  • A technology rich learning environment, including greater use of virtual reality, to enable learning anytime, anyplace via any device
  • Effective transition support that enables learners to move from education into employment seamlessly
  • A stronger research base that seeks to understand the critical elements behind high performing institutions and share this with others
  • A vocationally relevant means of delivering English and maths education for those who have failed to achieve a grade C by age 16. This should follow a new teaching, learning and assessment methodology without compromising standards
  • A greater focus on destinations, alongside value added and achievement, as true indicators of success

I believe in the capacity of the vocational education sector to achieve this, and am pleased to say that I can see the green shoots of progress already appearing.

English and maths – whose failure is it anyway?

English and maths pic

Blog by Sally Dicketts, Group Chief Executive, Activate Learning
Follow me on twitter @sallydicketts

Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw dealt a well-documented body blow to the further education sector last month when he suggested 16 to 19-year-olds would be better off in schools.

When quizzed on his comments to the Education Select Committee, he cited students’ poor performance in GCSE English and maths retakes as a key indicator of the sector’s failings.

Young people who don’t do well in these subjects at 16, rarely improve two years later, he complained.

If schools have failed to prepare these young people for GCSE success in 11 years, why are colleges being criticised for failing to reverse their fortunes in just two?

Last summer the think tank, Policy Exchange, published a report suggesting schools pay a levy to colleges where pupils joined having failed to secure good English and maths grades. The levy would help to ease colleges’ growing budget pressures over what could be seen as “passing the buck” of under-performance.

While many are still reeling from Sir Michael’s comments on further education, engaging in the blame game isn’t really going to help anyone.

No one doubts that English and maths are vital life and employability skills, but for me the question is whether GCSEs are the right indicator of success at all.

If a young person has struggled with English and maths at school, simply asking them to repeat the same exercise for another two years is only likely to reinforce failure.

Our emotions are the biggest barrier to effective learning and our emotional roadblocks are immediately raised when we are presented with a situation we have failed in before.

To break a habit we need to do things differently. We have seen a clear difference in our colleges where English and maths is embedded in the vocational curriculum. A student in hospitality and catering may struggle to see the relevance of writing an essay about their summer holiday, but can appreciate the need to present a clear ingredients list and explain a menu’s nutritional value.

This approach serves to demonstrate the value and impact of English in a vocational context. Students see the relevance and immediately feel motivated to put in the effort required to achieve.

While I absolutely disagree with Sir Michael’s comments about further education, what I hope it provokes is a further debate about how we teach and measure English and maths.

We need to stop being lazy in the way that we make judgements about student attainment, and instead understand the literacy and numeracy skills required for success in employment and life.

Will the post-16 education review ‘fix the foundations’?

Blog by Activate Learning Group Chief Executive Sally Dicketts.
Folllow Sally on twitter @sallydicketts

Foundations

Last week the government released the first details of its national review of post-16 education.

The 10-page report sets out a plan for “fewer, more resilient and efficient providers” which could include new Institutes of Technology and National Colleges providing training in industry specialisms.

The proposals stem the Government’s productivity plan – Fixing the Foundations – which aims to create a more prosperous and productive Britain.

While the detail on such sweeping reforms is scant at this early stage, we know that the vision will be achieved via a national programme of area-based reviews, starting in September.

Area-based reviews are not new to the sector, but they haven’t before been driven through with such an imperative for colleges to collaborate and merge.

Merger is part of our history at Activate Learning, where three colleges are now part of one group with centralised support services.

However, in the current climate I would question whether merger is always the best route for colleges needing to improve effectiveness and financial stability. Continue reading “Will the post-16 education review ‘fix the foundations’?”