From education to employment

A social impact revolution in FE

David Gallagher

This week NCFE has joined forces with the pioneering Good for Me Good for FE (GfMGfFE) campaign. In doing this, we’re providing funding for a pilot programme to help the FE initiative sustain the positive impact already being made – which Dr Sam Parrett highlighted in her article last week.

I completely agree with Sam that FE institutions are so much more than traditional education establishments. They are central to building the social fabric of their local communities and should be recognised in this way. 

FE institutions are central to building the social fabric of their local communities

GfMGfFE goes beyond an educational piece. This idea of getting the whole sector behind a common cause, encouraging volunteering and supporting those in greatest need is inspiring.  

From my perspective, with the right support, this campaign has the potential to help quite literally millions of people over the coming years. But what makes it even more unique and indeed exciting, is the impact it is likely to have on everyone involved and not just the recipients of the social action. 

We know there is much division in the world, be it through race, gender, sexuality, religion, war and more. Confronting the things that divide us is important, but so is finding ways to bridge gaps within our communities and bring people together (who perhaps wouldn’t naturally come together) with a common cause. Volunteering, fundraising and supporting others does just this; opening up our worlds and nurturing connection. 

A small personal example of this sort of impact was a time when my grandparents were sadly in a care home for the last year of their lives. I took my baby son in to visit them and the effect it had was quite remarkable. Having a child there lifted the whole room, bringing real joy to the older residents. This really stayed with me; showing how taking time to do the small things can really have an amazing impact on others. 

The benefits of community wealth building go far beyond the feel-good element

But the benefits of community wealth building go far beyond the feel-good element. Further Education is very much focused on helping people into fulfilling careers by equipping them with the right skills. Opening up volunteering opportunities for learners not only helps develop the transferable skills they need for success, but helps them connect with others and discover what might fulfil them in terms of a career destination. 

We know that skills gaps are increasing and that employers are struggling to recruit across many industries. Our education system must respond to these issues and to the needs of the labour market. Exposure to different, real-life environments has immense value for young people and volunteering absolutely facilitates this. 

The planned scaling up of T Levels is undoubtedly posing a challenge in terms of the volume of high-quality work placements required. This is going to require creative solutions and I think that volunteering must be part of this. Working as part of a team in a different environment truly is work experience; it doesn’t have to be on the premises of a ‘traditional’ employer. This would be an interesting way to tackle the T Level placement issue and is something we need to consider. 

Thousands of charities around the country are making a difference to society every day through their work. Yet by linking into FE networks and its army of volunteers, this impact could be multiplied in a phenomenal way; delivering value through volunteering to beneficiaries who then go on to deliver to a further set of beneficiaries, and so on. 

Community wealth building

There is no doubt that the FE sector has great ambition to demonstrate its commitment to community wealth building – thanks to the initiation of such a campaign as GfMGfFE. I have no doubt that in 3-4 years’ time, every college in the country will be operating in this way, having embedded social action into its way of doing business on a day-to-day level. 

At NCFE we work with every college in the country, and we will be doing our best to leverage on that scale. 140 colleges have already signed up to GfMGfFE generating over £1.5m of social value. These colleges are recognising the positive contribution this type of work has on outcomes for learners, as well as to communities as a whole. 

During the last, difficult two years of the pandemic, it became clear that human connection is the most important thing for wellbeing and mental fitness. This is what helps people find meaning and fulfilment from life and, as education providers, it is absolutely central to what we do. 

Helping take GfMGfFE to the next level is an exciting project for NCFE. We’re delighted to be part of what I know could be a social impact revolution for the sector and its communities. 

By David Gallagher, CEO, NCFE

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