The line in the sand by Jayne Stigger @fossa99

Over the past twenty or so years, the employment landscape has changed dramatically. Jobs that didn’t exist then are now commonplace, new jobs we haven’t even thought of are being developed and the old notion of a ‘job for life’ has thankfully vanished. 

Skills that are in demand must be our focus and even more important, skills that will be in demand in five or ten years must be planned for now. People of all ages need to have access to training to ensure their continued employability and for our economic success. Every change to the focus of FE has moved us further towards business and training and further from academic qualifications. See

FE’s remit on is “The further education (FE) system – the colleges and training providers that teach vocational qualifications and skills – needs to guarantee students high quality teaching and courses to help students into jobs or university and create the skilled workforce employers need.” 

The AoC say:
Further education colleges provide high quality technical and professional education and training for young people, adults and employers. They prepare almost three million students with valuable employability skills, helping to develop their career opportunities.

Sixth form colleges provide high-quality academic education to 16 to 18-year-olds enabling them to progress to university or higher level vocational education.

We are not the same, yet, in FE, many still stick to the same old Gold standard courses such as A levels and GCSE as our headline figures to attract new students. The A levels don’t bring as much funding and nor are they are brief, but they are still the headline figures quoted to attract students. If FE is vocational and business oriented why are we judging each other and selling ourselves to learners based on an antiquated measure? Why are we are still cramming our websites and prospectus documents with ’99.5% A-C A levels’ quotations and the stock images of university type students leaping into the air, brandishing their certificates. Why don’t we advertise our prowess in vocational courses to the same extent? We are either trying to be all things to all people, or we haven’t fully embraced our purpose. 

An FE prospectus looks a bit like a TK Maxx shop. Everything you can cram in is there, and hidden away in every department there are gems of real value but there is too much. We want to be known for our supportive SEND programmes, for our 16-18 achievement, for educating adults, for our HE provision, for our work with employers, for our apprenticeships, for our academic excellence, for our brilliant technology, for our Equality, for our ethnic diversity and for saving so many students who have been badly served in schools. We are rightly proud of our inclusivity. Inclusivity comes at a cost though. Funding issues and curriculum changes mean that we no longer have the capacity to give everyone what they need. Teaching hours are reduced, more learning is independent and online, trips to industry and even basic practical experiences are reduced in some places.

So why aren’t we focussing on our remit?

In 1992, FE voted to support incorporation and become financially independent. This changed the focus of FE from education to business but our mind set is still twenty years old. So why don’t we accept the challenge instead of weaving around it? Why don’t we declare ourselves to be the focus of employment opportunities? Why don’t we focus on developing employment skills through our fabulous vocational programmes and get students the skills they need now, and in the future? Why don’t we let the academic side go to the Sixth Forms and Sixth Form Colleges and focus fully on our remit? Is there still a residual snobbery around vocational education that somehow, we are ‘town’ and not ‘gown’, even within the FE sector itself?

I’m not suggesting for one moment that we start pronking our way across the educational landscape. That type of protectionist attitude is not conducive to good practice, nor is it financially sensible in such restrictive times. FE should be an open and welcoming landscape, not a series of enclaves. My suggestion is that after twenty plus years of independence,  FE recognises that the world has changed and if we wish to be known as centres of excellence, we embrace vocational education wholeheartedly and stop trying to hang onto every possible opportunity before National Colleges and UTC’s take our vocational strands too. It is time to draw a line in the sand, and concentrate on what we do best.

If FE, our economy and our students, are to thrive and not just survive, then this is not just our choice, it is our responsibility.

A review of The Education and Training Foundation 2014-15 by Carolyn O'Connor @Clyn40

The other week I had the opportunity to meet with Mike Harwood from theEducation and Training Foundation. This meeting was a chance for myself as aSET member to ask about keys areas in the report I had received late December 2015.

The areas I quizzed Mike over were as follows –

Maths and English

The ETF has been offering Maths and English enhancement course for practitioners. I attended one myself last year. I have to say it was worth attending, it helped me look at the differences between GCSE and Functional Skills. Further on they are now spearheading a reform on functional skills (seehere for further information). What I wanted to know was what support could be given to not just ensure good quality teaching was delivered to the students, but what they were going to do about the pressure FE has to churn out results at lightening speed. Nobody wants to teach to the test but the funding pressure is immense and many teachers are feeling the strain. Mike explained he understood this having taught in the sector for many years himself. The ETF want to improve the standard of maths and English and this would include how it needs to be taught.


The ETF are investing in leadership (see here) so I asked how would developing existing leaders help those of us on the ‘shop  floor’? How will we benefit? FE is renowned for having too many middle leaders. Mike explained that it would be about developing their leadership skills and would in turn have a positive impact on the rest of the staff team. There is also going to be something developed for teachers own leadership skills within the classroom. In addition the ETF will be looking at supporting staff that wish to progress into leadership roles.

Support is also being given to leaders by the ETF during these Area Reviews. Focusing on checking standards and ways to ensure they are at the very best level. Furthermore there is support for all professionals  via SET.

Support for practitioners

One of the many areas the ETF are offering support for is using technology (see here) for teaching and learning. The ETF have used the recommendations fromFELTAG and are now working alongside JISC to support this in FE. I asked Mike would this mean they would be looking at the real key issues for us, as in time to explore the technology we are given? Furthermore, whatever we use is not simply a fancy gimmick that ticks the technology box. Mike said they were looking at running CPD courses in conjunction with the online ones they offer. He was onboard with what I was saying and agreed that time to experiment was vital if it was going to be used to support teaching and learning. He also took note of what type of training format would be best for these potential courses. All we want as teachers is to have access to a range resources and time to experiment using them.  Also we need more autonomy in what we use, after all we know our students better than anyone!


QTLS has always been a bone of contention for me and I know for many other FE teachers too. So I wanted to know how the ETF were doing with this one. I have written about this before in a past post (see here). Mike says that they are aware that the IFL’s process was not overly popular. Therefore the ETF have taken feedback from practitioners and are working on strengthening the value of QTLS as well as the process. They hope to have a more robust and worthy form of QTLS by 2016.

Finally Mike also went on to discuss apprenticeships, due to a big shift in focus on them by the government. If you wish to read more on what support is being given for apprenticeship and training see here.


I am grateful to  Mike for giving me his time to discuss this review report, and for David Russell for offering me the opportunity to discuss it with an ETF representative. I am left feeling quite positive about ETF and SET compared to over a year ago. There is still a long way to go to help raise the professional status of FE and other lifelong learning establishments, but the ETF are clearly moving forward on this.

Could technology help colleges deliver more for students? By Nigel Rayner @Nigel_Rayner

If you want to engage with today’s young people, one of the most effective ways to do this is through a mobile device. According to Ofcom, 90% of 16 to 24 year-olds now own a smartphone and half of them check their phones within five minutes of waking up. 

These days, smartphones and tablets are more than just pieces of kit, they are an integral part of students’ lives. This presents an unmissable opportunity for colleges to use them to attract students, keep them engaged and help them to get the best from whatever further education pathway they choose.

So how are colleges tapping into the mobile technology revolution? We asked them and what they told us offers some interesting insight into the changing FE landscape.

Reaching young people

Some colleges use social media to reach out to young people through their phones and tablets before they have even enrolled, which can help to boost a recruitment drive.  

But as one assistant principal says, mobile technology is valuable for communicating with students once they start their courses too. “In schools, you can get students together in assembly regularly and talk to them there. Once they enter further education, however, you need to find a way to communicate directly with students without the ability to get them all into a room at the same time.

“Having an app on a tablet, they could see exactly where they should be on any given day and get alerts if their attendance or punctuality falls below acceptable levels.”

Keep students on track

Moving into further education is a big step, particularly for students who come straight from school. For colleges, a key part of this transition is encouraging young people to become more independent learners and mobile technology can play an important role in keeping students on track.

A growing number of colleges are looking at providing tools that allow students to monitor their own performance using a tablet or other mobile device, to support them in taking responsibility for their own achievement. These tools can give students access other information, such as their timetables and achievement targets, when they are away from college too.  

As a vice principal of one college says, “With the introduction of iPads this year, our students are even more engaged and interested in their learning during lessons. But they now also have a tool they can use to continue that learning outside of college. It is encouraging them to be more driven, independent learners.”

Engage your college community

It’s not just students who respond well to digital communications. Colleges have much to gain by using mobile technology to reach other stakeholders too. 

There are tools available that can offer teaching and pastoral staff instant access to information about their students’ progress, wherever they are in the college. It is even possible for them to engage in two-way communication with students, in real time. With live information such as details of students’ attendance or achievement at their fingertips, a tutor or student welfare officer can act quickly and offer support where it is needed when a students’ progress starts to slip and keep them motivated to achieve. 

Parents who have been used to receiving an abundance of information from schools on their child’s progress might find that when they enter further education, this starts to drop off. But there are solutions available that will provide them with real-time information on their child’s attendance and progress straight to their phone or tablet to help them engage in and support their child’s studies. 

The future is mobile

The colleges we spoke to demonstrated that the FE sector is starting to embrace mobile technology and develop clear strategies for how students, parents and other stakeholders can benefit from its use. The director of information at a college in the midlands underlined this when he said, “As a further education college, if you don’t get information onto mobile platforms you are in trouble, in my view.”

Young people now expect to operate in a digitally connected world, and those institutions that make the most of all that mobile technology has to offer will be in a stronger position to be able to attract students, keep them motivated and boost their achievement.

To read the full college interviews, download the ‘Greater Achievement in the palm of your hand’ white paper here.

Nigel Rayner is director of Capita’s further and higher education business. 

A Visit to the Education and Training Foundation by Hannah Tyreman @HannahTyreman

I was overwhelmed to be invited by Sarah Simons to join the #ukfechat gang in a visit to meet with David Russell at the Education and Training Foundation. It was at the start of a week in which, it eventually turned out, I gained a lot of confidence. As this was at the start of the week and meant an influx of new people to meet, I was incredibly nervous. I was my typical quiet and reflective self for the duration of the meeting.

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