It’s not 1992 any more: the GFE has had its day

In a post-sains­bury world, the gen­eral fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion col­lege no longer cuts it as a model for de­liv­er­ing the skills that are re­quired by in­dus­try to thrive, says Ian Pretty

TES (Times Education Supplement) - - FURTHER -

THE NEED to en­sure that the UK has a highly skilled work­force is vi­tal. The UK econ­omy faces con­sid­er­able chal­lenges, from low pro­duc­tiv­ity to the un­cer­tainty posed by Brexit. The gov­ern­ment recog­nises the piv­otal role that re­forms to tech­ni­cal and pro­fes­sional ed­u­ca­tion will play in cre­at­ing a dy­namic, modern, 21st-cen­tury work­force.

Along­side changes to ap­pren­tice­ship fund­ing, the Sains­bury re­forms present the most sig­nif­i­cant op­por­tu­nity to com­pletely re­pro­file tech­ni­cal and pro­fes­sional ed­u­ca­tion (TPE). The Sains­bury re­forms could de­liver a step change in pro­duc­tiv­ity as part of a re­newed fo­cus on in­dus­trial strat­egy. It can en­sure that in­dus­try and busi­ness lead­er­ship be­comes a re­al­ity, with a cur­ricu­lum specif­i­cally de­signed to meet em­ployer needs.

The need to de­liver a ro­bust and cred­i­ble TPE sys­tem is now more im­por­tant than ever.

Much has al­ready been discussed about Sains­bury: the 15 routes; the in­tro­duc­tion of T lev­els; the as­pi­ra­tion to pro­vide high-qual­ity TPE path­ways on par with aca­demic-based routes. But an equally cru­cial aspect is to un­der­stand which kinds of in­sti­tu­tions are best placed to de­liver this change.

It is un­doubt­edly true that FE has an in­dis­pens­able role to play, but in or­der to ful­fil the po­ten­tial of th­ese re­forms, a change in mind­set is needed. This re­quires a recog­ni­tion that the sec­tor has changed in the past five years, and to thrive in the post-sains­bury world, col­leges will need to ra­tio­nalise their of­fer to fo­cus on spe­cialisms. To do this, new or­gan­i­sa­tional struc­tures may be re­quired, as col­leges re­align them­selves as cen­tres of ex­per­tise.

What’s needed are lo­cally em­bed­ded in­sti­tu­tions that of­fer spe­cial­ist pro­vi­sion tai­lored to give both learn­ers and in­dus­try the skills to drive growth and pro­duc­tiv­ity. This will re­quire in­sti­tu­tions with strong links to in­dus­try and an abil­ity to re­spond to lo­cal and re­gional labour mar­ket de­mand. It leads to an in­evitable ques­tion: is the gen­eral fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion (GFE) col­lege best placed to re­alise the po­ten­tial of th­ese im­por­tant re­forms?

Sains­bury pro­vides a frame­work for in­sti­tu­tions to plan col­lec­tively how they best use their re­sources to ac­com­mo­date lo­cal labour mar­ket need. In this way, it has the po­ten­tial to de­liver what the area-based re­view pro­gramme has not de­liv­ered by driv­ing col­leges to re­view their own busi­ness mod­els and struc­tures to cre­ate ef­fi­cien­cies and de­liver bet­ter out­comes.

Pick­ing the right routes

In most cases it would not be re­al­is­tic for col­leges to de­liver all 15 routes. In­stead, col­leges will need to of­fer routes that best re­flect the needs of the lo­cal econ­omy. Some col­leges have con­cerns about se­cur­ing high-qual­ity work place­ments across the new T-level cour­ses. But ac­cess­ing high-qual­ity work place­ments will only be pos­si­ble with a range of well-de­vel­oped em­ployer re­la­tion­ships. Can stand­alone col­leges re­ally de­liver high-qual­ity T lev­els across 15 di­verse eco­nomic sec­tors, while cre­at­ing and de­vel­op­ing mean­ing­ful em­ployer part­ner­ships across all routes?

What we need are new op­er­a­tional struc­tures that can best fa­cil­i­tate a lo­cally de­signed and de­liv­ered cur­ricu­lum that lever­ages a broad spec­trum of mean­ing­ful em­ployer re­la­tion­ships. Is it now time to look at group mod­els as the best means to pro­vide in­di­vid­ual ser­vices that sup­port the lo­cal econ­omy and the lo­cal com­mu­nity? Col­lege group struc­tures, would pro­vide an in­no­va­tive way to lever­age the com­mu­nity and so­cial ties of in­di­vid­ual in­sti­tu­tions, within a wider net­work of col­leges. At the same time, it would al­low in­di­vid­ual col­leges within the group to fo­cus on spe­cialisms, and for other col­leges to fo­cus on pro­vid­ing dif­fer­ent lev­els of pro­vi­sion.

In­sti­tutes of tech­nol­ogy would then have a nat­u­ral home in the FE sec­tor within a col­lege group de­liv­er­ing level 4 and 5 science, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and maths pro­vi­sion. A “hub and spoke” model could be ap­plied, where “spoke” col­leges train new re­cruits at level 1 and 2, per­haps as part of the tran­si­tion year, and the “hub” in­sti­tu­tion could then pro­vide pro­gres­sion onto T-level cour­ses at level 3, lead­ing on to an ap­pren­tice­ship, univer­sity or even de­gree ap­pren­tice­ships.

It is th­ese kinds of in­sti­tu­tions that are most rel­e­vant to the rapidly evolv­ing con­text. Cur­ricu­lum plan­ners no longer need to fo­cus just on pro­vid­ing the skills in to­day job mar­ket, but in­creas­ingly they also need to an­tic­i­pate the skills needed 5, 10 or 20 years down the line.

The re­forms to TPE po­ten­tially rep­re­sent the most pro­found changes to tech­ni­cal

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