Our education model is rated by everyone except us

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

The academic year draws to a close amidst a backdrop of uncertainty over the future of further education.

In a recent speech to the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, Skills Minister Nick Boles questioned whether the general further education model has a future at all. As the government seeks to reduce the national deficit, what Mr Boles referred to as the ‘unproductive parts of the further education sector’ will come under scrutiny.

Today’s budget will reveal how required savings of £900m to the BIS and DfE budgets will fall on FE.

Britain’s vocational education system is under-funded and under-valued and yet internationally it remains a highly prized commodity.

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If FE colleges are so dangerous, why send the most vulnerable?

A version of the following blog, by Activate Learning Group Chief Executive Sally Dicketts, appeared in TES on 12 June.

Folllow Sally on twitter @salldicketts

Further education has an image problem. That statement will come as no surprise to anyone working in the sector.

While many have no understanding of it at all, others perceive it to be a risky option.

We are used to responding to parents’ concerns about how their child will fare – leaving the relative safety of school for a semi-urban college campus where their son or daughter will face greater freedoms, follow a more flexible timetable and potentially mix with a more diverse student body.

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Will government grants develop grit in our young people?

Blog by Sally Dicketts, Chief Executive of Activate Learning. Follow Sally on twitter.

What makes some people give up at the first hurdle while others try, try and try again?

overcoming hurdles
Grit, resilience, perseverance – whatever you call it, most would agree that it’s an important trait and something we should be doing more to develop in our young people.

It has now attracted government backing, in the shape of a £5m character grants scheme designed to produce a nation of “resilient, confident young people…ready to lead tomorrow’s Britain”.

As part of the scheme announced by Nicky Morgan this week, premiership rugby coaches will work with pupils in secondary schools to instil the sport’s values in the classroom. This will include learning how to bounce back from setbacks, how to show integrity in victory and defeat and to respect others.

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What next? Helping your young person at a career crossroads

Is your son or daughter in Years 9, 10 or 11 and undecided about their future? Sometimes the most exciting things may happen unexpectedly, but it’s also good to have a plan. Guide your son or daughter to the right career track, because their future starts today.

Here at Activate Learning we want to give you a helping hand, so you can better understand the options out there and how to support your teenager.

Backpack-guy

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Surviving revision: tips for success

As we head towards June, it’s that time of the year when thousands of students across the country are getting ready for their exams.

If late night cramming, teenage nerves and too much coffee all sound familiar to you, chances are your son or daughter is one of them.

 

Exam

Want to give them a helping hand, but not sure how? Simply take two minutes off whatever you are doing now to learn how revising the Activate Learning way can make a big difference to their results:
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Should we worry about increased anxiety?

By Sally Dicketts, Chief Executive of Activate Learning

Follow Sally on twitter @sallydicketts

The anxiety levels of teenagers are apparently on the rise.

Recent research suggests that young girls in particular are showing more signs of emotional distress.

Anxiety

Research by University College London and the Anna Freud Centre compared the mental health of more than 1,600 11 to 13-year old boys and girls in 2009 and 2014. The results found the number of girls at risk of emotional problems had increased sharply, from 13 to 20 per cent within five years. Meanwhile the level of other mental health and behavioural problems remained fairly static.

So what’s going on behind the statistics?

Although our levels of empathy decrease during adolescence, young girls are still more likely than boys to become attuned to feelings of distress in others.  They may not yet however have the capacity and skills to give support without being adversely affected themselves.

Those commenting on the research have suggested that the increasing pressure on girls to perform academically, coupled with anxiety over body image amplified by social media, could be behind the rise.

It begs the question as to whether today’s young people face more pressures than their parents’ generation did, or whether the culture in which they operate is heightening levels of stress.

As Eleanor Doughty wrote in The Telegraph online, many of the things that occupy teenage minds – exams, relationships, future ambitions – are unchanged. Social media has had a major impact on these way thoughts and feelings are shared, but that can be helpful as much as it can induce feelings of stress.

I am inclined to agree, and I don’t think there is yet sufficient research into the effects of social media to lay blame at its doors. I do however believe that children are growing up in busier homes where the growth in digital technologies makes it harder to compete for attention. We all want to be heard but we are losing the art of listening, and if you don’t feel listened to you can soon feel isolated. It is a point explored by Nancy Kline in her book, ‘Time to Think’, and an issue that educators should take notice of. We need to help young people develop good listening skills to support their social interactions and build their resilience.

I also believe that young people face a more fiercely competitive jobs market than generations before. When I grew up getting a degree set you apart from the competition. Today it has become commonplace and students are expected to achieve at least a 2:1 and must offer additional skills and experience to stand out. Candidates are competing in a global jobs market and one which offers much less job security than it did for their parents.

This research is significant for those educating young people in schools and colleges. It suggests that we need to be much better at detecting signs of emotional distress, which can get overlooked in light of more obvious behavioural problems.

It also adds weight to the argument for incorporating mindfulness techniques into our teaching and learning as we build young people’s resilience and help them take ownership of those things they can change, and let go of issues outside their control.

What can marshmallows teach us about student success?

Sally Dicketts is Group Chief Executive of Activate Learning.
Follow Sally on twitter @sallydicketts

marshmallow1

Picture the scene. You are left alone with your favourite sweet treat and told not to eat it – or at least told not to eat it for 20 minutes after which your self-control will be rewarded with double helpings.

You can’t leave the room, you can’t do anything else, just sit and wait.

Would you forego instant gratification for the promise of something better in less than half an hour?

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When it comes to education, is the customer really king?

Sally Dicketts CBE is Group Chief Executive of Activate Learning

Follow Sally on Twitter @sallydicketts

English and maths GCSE

How many educators think about their students as customers?

If we did, would it change the way we deliver our products and services?

In the last few weeks English and maths have been hitting the headlines again.

A survey of business leaders by the Education and Training Foundation revealed that three-quarters of employers believe action is needed to improve English and maths skills.

Some complained that young recruits use text speak rather than full sentences, others said that poor spelling and communication skills are damaging their business.

Meanwhile a poll of 1,000 parents by ComRes for Teach First and Barclays revealed that parents value maths skills for their children, but struggle themselves. Two in five parents need to use their phone calculator to work out sums and a third feel anxious about supporting their child with homework.

Since September 2013, any young person who fails to get a grade C in GCSE English or maths must continue to study the subject until the age of 18.

As an education provider we want to attract and delight our customers. Yet the reality is that our customers don’t want to re-take failed GCSE English and maths exams.

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The writing’s on the wall for adult learning

Sally Dicketts CBE is Chief Executive of Activate Learning

Follow Sally on Twitter @sallydicketts

Writing on the wall

Further education providers across the country finally received the news they’d been dreading last week as the Skills Funding Agency confirmed cuts to the adult skills budget.

The chopping of 24 per cent off funding for adult learners was delivered with a message that things could in fact have been much worse.

SFA chief executive Peter Lauener announced that a last minute deal with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills managed to cushion an even more devastating 32 per cent reduction. Providers who do not deliver apprenticeships, traineeships, nor English and maths will still face this higher level chop and it is difficult to see them surviving at all.

Cuts are cuts, and it is unlikely that anyone in the further education sector is breathing a sigh of relief at a figure of 24 per cent. For a group such as ours, cuts to the adult skills budget will reduce annual income by £1.4m.

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Levelling the field in preparing for work

stock-footage-young-person-attending-a-business-interview

At a college advisory board meeting this week the message from employers was a familiar one.

When it comes to job interviews, young people just aren’t prepared.

The typical candidate was described as having done little or no research on the company or role, inappropriately dressed and lacking the desired language, behaviour or attitude.

Not a ringing endorsement for today’s young people.

For our born digital generation the prospect of a 20 minute interview focused on a single activity, involving conversation and eye contact, can feel like an alien concept. More typically our young people are wired to mobile devices, used to texting while talking or engaging in multiple social media conversations without human contact.

It raises the age old question of work readiness and how we get our young people to meet the expectations of employers and the demands of the workplace.

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