I am proud to have been involved in Further and Adult Education for over 40 years. Firstly, as teacher, learner, lecturer, manager, Vice Principal and Principal and now privileged to be chair of governors at Northern College in Barnsley, an Ofsted double rated “outstanding” provider of Adult residential education.
One of the Colleges I worked at in Derbyshire was built by the “penny levy” coalminers dropped into a can at the pit head every pay day until they had enough money to build a small 2 roomed schoolhouse so they and their families could learn to read and write. Another College in Nottingham was called “The Peoples College” (several existed and some became Universities) whose mission statement was “Erected by Voluntary contributions for the education and training of the working classes for ever” Robert Halfon and Skills Funding Agency please take note!
In all those years I have been struck by two things. Firstly, the power of education to transform individual lives, families and communities. Secondly the commitment, passion and resilience of the workforce in further and adult education. I have yet to meet a teacher who is not dedicated to do the best for the students and to improve their own teaching, learning and assessment skills and knowledge or a member of support staff who did not passionately believe in the value of the work they were doing.
But things have been tough for further and adult education recently. Repeated year on year budget cuts, a lack of understanding of the role and needs of the sector by successive FE and Skills Ministers (NB We no longer have an FE Minister but an “Apprenticeship and Skills Minister” which seems to ignore the fact there are over 3 million students in further and adult education?) and the opportunity cost of the Area Based Reviews have all taken their toll.
We also have to recognise that the learning design principles which underpin the current system originated in a bygone industrial era. Dominated by Textiles, Mining, Steel, Shipbuilding and Manufacturing the underlying mindset upon which the current system is predicated is, in my view, no longer fit for purpose in digital world.
So if we wish to continue transforming lives and communities and want to build on our rich heritage of providing learning for working people and those preparing for work, then we have to look at ourselves and consider whether we need to transform the way we do things.
This was a key driving principle behind the support the then FE and Skills Minister Matt Hancock (Now at DCMS and lead on Governments Digital Strategy) gave to kick start the FELTAG movement which has attempted to nudge the sector towards a more digital future.
It is timely therefore that two reports were launched this week which provide a steer for our future vision and a stimulus to policy makers that we need a “paradigm shift” in the way the sector is funded, organised, regulated, assessed and ultimately judged.
The first is the Open University “Innovating Pedagogy 2016 report
Produced every year this excellent publication provides an insight into some of the ways that technology is playing in how learning is designed, delivered and assessed.
Several themes emerge which we need to consider which include;
Learning through social media: Teachback: Productive failure: Learning from the crowd: Design thinking: Learning through video games: Formative analytics: Learning for the future Blockchain Learning.
You can read more about each of these themes in the report.
The second is the report from the Skills Commission “Going Places-Innovation in Further Education”
The commission heard that innovation is where leaders are
““prepared to go beyond the obvious; a different and creative approach to solving problems, pushing boundaries to serve communities and businesses”
I was one of a number of witnesses to give evidence to the commission and it is an effective piece of work in general but especially relevant is Chapter 3 which summarises the challenges and opportunities the sector faces and makes a number of recommendations about a digital direction of travel.
“To enhance provision, create more efficient delivery models and to reduce the need for physical facilities providers should invest in the digital capabilities of their staff and collaborate with other providers.”
Providers need to have the confidence to innovate digitally. In its annual report to Parliament on Education and Skills, Ofsted should highlight examples of good digital practice that have transformed outcomes.
The juxtaposition of the publication of these two reports in the space of a week provides us all with a window of opportunity to reflect on how we design, deliver, assess learning and engage and support learners in an increasingly digital world.
The time for carrying on doing the wrong things in the wrong way with diminished resources as best we can and expecting a different outcome is over.
We need to transform ourselves if we want to transform the lives of our learners and communities. History demonstrates they depend on us.