Following a series of critical reflections, I aim to approach this post with some positive thoughts; the bright spots that exist within my team at work. Before I get to the bright spots, I want to provide readers with some background in the FE sector - Please forgive me for the negative start!
- Funding agencies pay the FE sector based on learner recruitment, retention, achievement and success - This is a result of the Further and Higher Education Act (1992) whereby a neoliberal output based funding model was produced.
- If a programme of study does not recruit its target numbers, entry requirements tend to become 'relaxed', which creates a 'bums on seats' type exercise. If the programme fails to fill, then the cost of running it becomes unfeasible, leading to a risk of redundancy for teaching staff.
- If the programme does run, but learners do not achieve by the end of the year, then success rates are affected. With this, there is a risk of losing a significant amount of funding. Despite the fact that some of the learners recruited have not met entry requirements, there is still an expectation to 'get them through'.
- Awarding bodies essentially sell their qualifications to the FE sector. Question: Would a College choose a more robust qualification where learners may be at risk of not achieving, or would they go for a tried and tested 'spoon-feeding' model? (14-19 Diploma - BTEC spring to mind). Awarding bodies have little interest in the learner, their interests lie with attracting business. They become more of an attractive proposition with 'easier' qualifications due to the potential to increase success, thus funding.
- With a huge reduction in funding due to the current economic climate (the latest being a 17.5% reduction in fees for 18 year old learners), there is an increased pressure to ensure success. Year on year, targets for success increase (at what point will this end I wonder?), with National benchmarks increasing too. I do wonder how National success has gone from 53% in 1997 to approximately 85% today?
- It must also be noted at this point that class sizes are increasing and there is a reduction in the amount of contact learning hours between teacher and learner to remain as 'efficient' as possible.
- There are many anecdotes and articles of similar situations across the FE sector and despite the huge decrease in time and the huge increase in pressure to ensure success, there are also policy changes that create fear amongst the College's most prized assets - its teachers. Take for example the recent debacle at Gateway College in Leicester, where the SLT attempted to introduce a no notice, unlimited observation policy.
- In my experience, a staffroom that was once bustling with teaching and support staff has now become a desolate environment which has little conversation and an increase in short tempered, over-worked employees.
- I haven't even bothered with Ofsted, who of course cause additional unwanted stress and make many of their judgements based on the success rates within a FE College.
So, with all the doom and gloom, how possibly could there be any 'bright spots' I hear you say?! Well, I would like to discuss two examples of fabulous individuals who despite the above, continue to put the most important people at the heart of their work - the learners.
The First Bright Spot The first example is a colleague who I consider to be my prodigy. This young teacher starts his working day at 7:15am every morning without fail and will often stay beyond 6pm. Once he gets home, he marks learner work extensively and plans his lessons until late into the evening.
Though he has only been working in the team for the last two years, he has brought a great deal to them. His teaching practice is consistently good and he shares his creative teaching strategies willingly between his peers. He also goes beyond the call of duty with his feedback and support for learners.
Last October he applied to become a Google Certified Teacher and was successful with his application. The video demonstrates his creativity and ingenuity, which is reflected in his classroom too. His use of Google with the learners this year has really helped them to engage with their learning and he has a few more ideas that I look forward to seeing in practice. He certainly has a bright future in the FE sector - hopefully the corruption and negativity that exists will not turn him away from teaching.
The Second Bright Spot My second example is an individual who isn't your orthodox teacher. She has been teaching for a number of years and it seems she has never been one to 'tick the boxes', but will go above and beyond her role to ensure that her learners progress.
I was fortunate enough to observe her in an individual tutorial last week and can honestly say that she was outstanding. The learner she was supporting has clearly progressed so much this academic year and her empathy and passion for developing the learner was evident in the resources she used to help him. This included a 'vision board', which allowed the learner to visualise their aspirations and also the prior research she had done to give the learner different examples of the end goal. It is difficult to put into words how fantastic this support was, but I can honestly say that it was not 'put on' for the observation due to the prior work that had been produced with the learner.
So, two bright spots and I have only been back for two weeks. I hope that others within the FE sector can resonate with this post and also share their bright spots. We are the 'Cinderella of education' and we need to recognise the great work that we do despite our circumstances. Ultimately, we need to remember who we are there for - yes statistics can tell us part of a story, but they do not share the story of the young man who is homeless, or the young girl who is being abused. These are daily occurrences and unfortunately, sometimes, despite the efforts, they will not succeed.
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