FELTAG, an objective or a bit too difficult for the SFA?

As many will know to their cost, I have often had plenty to say about the FELTAG recommendations right from the publication  in 2014, when it was the main topic of an RSC Northwest (Regional Support Centre) team meeting, when I was a member of a brilliant team of e-learning advisers. Until today in this final rant following an abysmal cop-out of a report by the SFA during a special webinar arranged by ALT, last week.

Special as it was important to learn what the SFA findings were from various studies after an incredibly long delay. But not so special as it most certainly wasn’t worth the wait other than at least I know where we all stand and what comes to mind is the Monty Python ‘Dead parrot sketch.’ Inasmuch as although the spirit of FELTAG, is alive and well, I was pretty sure that this parrot might as well be deceased, were it not that agencies perhaps with a vested interest to state otherwise, keep poking it.

Government response to the FELTAG report, in June 2014 said:

‘We can harness the power of technology to improve standards of education, and with it to realise the potential of millions’   [note: pretty important then]

‘But it is clear from the FELTAG research and report that there are a number of obstacles which impede the ability of providers to take full advantage of these technologies. Our task is to remove them.’  [note: remove obstacles]

‘We will also ensure that the funding regime more effectively supports the delivery of online programmes and from 2014/15 we will introduce an online only funding rate.’   [note: that would be 2014/15]

Matthew Hancock Minister of State for Skills and Enterprise

Two years on, the SFA presented their position by way of slides showing the outcomes of various surveys made by the SFA and Jisc, which in my opinion was based on interpretation of statistics that you could drive a bus through to justify a position of no further action. Such as:

Q: Percentage online learning targets, will they help?

A: ‘Most feedback from providers and stakeholders agreed that this would be difficult to implement and counterproductive.’

Q:  Examine the case for an online funding rate

A: ‘Difficult because of the number of online delivery methods…and there is no consensus definition of online learning among stakeholders or providers.’

Stephen Nichols, Policy Implementation Manager, Skills Funding Agency, April 2016:

The webinar slides and recording can be found here, so you can judge for yourself, but be warned, its forty-five minutes of your life that you’ll never get back. I know I’ve watched it three times in the name of research. But if you do watch and listen, check out the actual reports behind the so called statistics and watch out for the unwritten statement by Steve Nicholl when he says:

“We should commission some research on how much demand is out there for online learning – couldn’t find any particular evidence of research out there at the moment that would give us that information so that’s something else that we will be looking at”.

It would take less than 20 minutes to see how many online courses are being delivered online by UK Universities, or the thousands of people signing up to online courses around the world. The Mooc that I signed up to in November hosted by Leeds University had 10,000 registrations. So apart from that, there is not much demand.   It suggested to me, that the original report and government response, was but a distant memory to the SFA, assuming it had ever been read and flies in the face of FELTAG’s  commissioned research through (as the government response paper states)  online conversation and its surveys with teachers and managers.

So that’s that then, the so called drive to ‘overcome the obstacles that impede learning provider’s ability to take advantage of technology,’ effectively disappears in a cloud of smoke and mirrors. The smoke coming from the £5m here, £6m there of public money burning, not to mention a bottomless pit of costs incurred by agencies of varying kind to keep everyone up to date etc. The mirrors reflecting the same pontificating as the SFA hands over to Jisc ‘to take the Lead’, whatever that means.

I wrote an article just a year ago entitled FELTAG: a directive, an aspiration, or just common sense?

Which included:

I recall when during an RSC team meeting and discussion of the FELTAG report, I greatly annoyed our manager at the time by expressing the view that whilst the recommendations were absolutely on the money, the message was nothing new  as it was very much in keeping with what we (RSCs) and other agencies had been ‘preaching’ for years. But in my view it still lacked teeth to shake the sector from its complacency. The only exception being that the report called for a significant percentage of courses being made available online and would include an online funding rate. Our manager said I was being negative.

Not surprising then that my opinion hasn’t changed and as that manager is now head of further education (FE) and skills for Jisc, they will now ‘lead the way‘. Only without the 12 regional support centres that were under notice of closure even as the government response to FELTAG was being published in 2014.

Regardless of what has gone before and where we are. I am pleased to say that there are far more learning providers out there that have the common sense and foresight to make use of the best learning technologies available to them than there are learning providers that appear to find it a ‘bit difficult‘ to embrace, even if it’s for their own survival.

So no more writing about FELTAG, or explaining what it meant to learning providers that have never heard of it. I remain comfortable with the fact that whilst Polly may not look as good as it could, the spirit of FELTAG is very much alive and well.

Colin Gallacher
Learning Technology Consultant

See also: Incentive 8: Chalk and Cheese
Government response to the recommendations from the Further Education Learning Technology Action Group (FELTAG) – June 2014
Jisc: Regional Support Centres (RSCs)


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