From education to employment

A bit of wishful thinking for stability

While so many organisations are quick to question the clarity and stability of the future of Further Education, many tend not to stipulate exactly what changes and improvements they would like to see happen to the system.

The FE road is often rocky, so I would like to set out my wish list for the next 12 months I am of the opinion that “if you don’t ask, you don’t get” – or as they say in Newcastle, “shy bairns get nowt” – and if just one or two of my choices comes true, perhaps the path will be slightly smoother for us all.

A quality education can provide people with the head start that is needed to lead a successful life and career. However without stability in the system, it is all the more difficult to envisage how this sector can progress and ultimately contribute to the stabilisation of the economy as a whole.

2010 presents a real opportunity for the key players within the sector to make positive changes that will secure the future of learners, colleges and training providers and ensure that the UK’s education system remains one of the front-runners across the globe.

Here is my four point line up for what could be a fantastic year:

1. Early election to find some direction

For quite some time now, this sector has felt inert and lacking in direction. The FE sector has performed admirably in the circumstances – against the backdrop of huge economic difficulties, the latest figures for the end of 2008 show that the proportion of young people aged 16-18 participating in education or training reached 79.7 per cent, an increase of 1.7 percentage points since 2007 and the highest ever rate.

Just think what we could achieve with a bit more direction, clarity and stability from central Government. Regardless of who wins, an early general election would bring clarity to other areas of society and provide the new political team, whoever they may be, with a fresh start and a chance to revive the system after what has been claimed as one of the greatest economic depressions in UK history.

2. Time for us to settle down and catch our breath

After a period of countless programmes and initiatives designed to restructure and improve the sector, I would like to see the Minister of Education take a step back, take a look at the bigger picture and develop a strategy for this sector that will benefit everyone involved. A new approach to the mechanics of further education is already in place with the imminent changes to MoG, which we covered at our recent conference in London.

Those in charge need to conduct a strategic and root and branch review of these measures and then allow the system to settle down and stabilise, would dramatically benefit all who stand to be affected and ultimately allow us to create a future-proof system that can grow and develop.

3. Start from the beginning

It is a bold statement, however if more focus and more resources were allocated to the primary and secondary education sectors from the outset, FE organisations would not be left to pick up the pieces quite so much further down the line. To use NCFE as an example, we have responded to market demand by setting up our Get Set for Work suite of qualifications, which help equip learners with the basic skills needed to enhance their chances of finding work. The proportion of 16 and 17 year olds NEET has fallen for the third consecutive year. At 5.2 per cent, the proportion of 16 year olds NEET is at its lowest level for more than a decade. The proportion of 18 year olds NEET rose by 2.4 percentage points to 16.6 per cent. This caused the overall proportion of 16-18 year olds NEET to rise by 0.7 percentage points to 10.3 percent.

Whilst all strands of education have their own requirements and ways of working, it is important to look at the system as a whole and develop individual strategies and initiatives in all areas that will create integration with the others and create a more efficient and sustainable system.

4. Desperate for revival of the economy

With the above points in place, at least from an educational point of view, we would be well on our way to facilitating a revival of confidence in the economy and boosting the numbers of young people getting back into work. With over 920,000 young people still searching for employment, it is vital that the system is able to do all it can to equip jobseekers with the crucial skills needed to enter the workplace.

As young people are our future intellectual and economic hope, it has never been more important to put them first and for all industry sectors to strive towards improving market conditions. Only then will we start to see a significant decline in unemployment and subsequently an improvement in the economy.

Some of my wishes may sound ambitious – and a healthy sceptic might attempt to pour scorn on all of them. However, they are, in my opinion, all eminently achievable – any one of them would help our sector immeasurably, but all four would really leave us with a brighter outlook and a huge reason to be cheerful for the rest of 2010 and beyond.

David Grailey is the chief executive of NCFE, the qualification awarding body

Read other FE News articles by David Grailey:

Taming the MoG

FE Titanic approaches the iceberg of MoG

We must help UK’s young jobless get set for work

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