7 days can be a long time in FE & Skills

But it took a lot longer than that for so many learning providers to become ‘less than good’.

Over the past seven (ok ten) days a minority of organisations in the FE & Skills sector and in particular colleges, have through publications and articles come under severe criticism for the decline in performance of leadership and of particular interest to me, that related to the quality of apprenticeship delivery. I must repeat that the criticism is directed at a minority of learning providers, albeit a significant percentage, which when counted in number of learners is nothing short of disgraceful. Thankfully, the majority are the complete opposite, which also begs the question, why is it that organisations with similar infrastructure, funding and demographics are poles apart in delivering similar quality of teaching and learning.

I understand it is the basis for the nationwide local Area Reviews which, and I quote are ‘designed to achieve a transition towards fewer, larger, more resilient and efficient providers and more effective collaboration across institution types.’

Click here to read the Area Review.

Articles such as:

21st century governance needed for 21st century schools

Sir Michael Wilshire – Ofsted / GOV UK November 2015

Apprenticeship reforms puts college sector in need of a cunning plan

Theresa Frith – Senior Skills Manager Association of Colleges / FE Week Nov 23

‘The level of apprenticeship delivery within colleges overall is woeful’

Dame Asha Khemka – Principal and Chief Executive of Vision West Nottinghamshire College / TES November 26

College Performance has declined

Sir Michael Wilshaw – Ofsted annual report / FE Week 1st December

In which he wrote: “The figures from our routine inspections this year are shocking, with almost half the provision judged to be less than good.” And:

Of the 190 apprenticeship programmes inspected this year, 72 were judged to require improvement and 21 were inadequate, affecting around 73,000 apprentices.”

So it’s not just me then and it’s not just the past 7/10 days, such criticism has been out in the open for many months, probably longer and I cannot stress enough the fact that there are many learning providers, especially colleges which stand out like beacons of excellence and many striving to do more than ‘survive’ *.

Why state what is already known citing articles and reports you the reader have already read? Well, yet another article caught my eye, which is focused on colleges  going through area reviews and how ‘increased use of technology is the key to unlocking new efficiencies and excellent teaching and learning.’ Really? so I duly read the article, followed the links and decided to have this rant and share a few points that concern me.

What colleges going through the area reviews need to know

Sue Atwell – Head of Change FE & Skills – Jisc / FE News 27 November

I am tempted to ‘nit-pick’ through the whole article, but I leave it to the reader to determine the benefits or otherwise of the services and support being offered. Especially if a college is engaged in delivering apprenticeships etc. which most of those listed for Area Review are. However, although the service and support is described as being for ‘area review support’ it is still on the basis of providing a review of technology, by ‘the digital organisation for the sector, by the sector’ and as it is on the lines of an advertorial might have pointed out that ‘other technology reviews are available‘.

My main concern is if any organisation, especially those that are technologically ‘challenged’  choose to interpret this as a solution in the short term despite the article making clear the process by which change might be achieved I suspect that the prospective college may well be led by those featured in the highlighted articles.  So for the purposes of balance and for the benefit of those organisations not engaged in an area review and or the FE & Skills sector other than colleges, I would point out that our experience of running a Learning Technology Review, is nothing like that.

For example, whilst our review also begins and ends with college principals and governors, our experience is that the analysis is unlikely to be accurate if left to SMT to review its own technological effectiveness albeit with an online technology review tool. Many such tools have gone before and lessons believed to be learned. As a consequence rather than self-analysis by a chosen few, we have a process of interviewing the managers, staff and learners that experience the current technology daily, know what the barriers are and have their own ideas of using innovative technology, given the opportunity. That’s the starting point, otherwise the answers given, will be based on the self-belief of those mentioned in the above publications, most of which still believe themselves to be great. Others don’t realise that although they have a VLE and tick a box accordingly, few use it, learners don’t engage with it etc. Many such examples are featured on this site.

But despite the heavy criticism and in defence of principal’s leadership and management, when it comes to innovative technology they have to rely on information provided and whilst we too offer impartiality, especially when identifying all technological options, our data will come from the organisations own shop floor, for our specialists to present to the principal’s along with our recommendations, enabling them to make informed decisions.

Finally and thinking technology review, area review, timeline………….. its going to take a lot more than 7/10 days to initiate change, so if not now, when and by whom?

Rant over, many thanks and in keeping with the aforementioned feel free to contact us but rest assured we won’t be phoning you.

Colin Gallacher
Learning Technology Adviser

See also: * Show the government how FE is responding by Gemma Gathercole


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