In preparing our responses to the government’s Skills for Sustainable Growth consultation, I think we need to consider the inheritance we are creating for future generations, as well as our short-term business and economic needs.
Like many people, I spent some of my summer holiday catching up on decorating. While perched on a stepladder painting at one point, I was also thinking about the best way to saw old planks, and debating whether it would be best to use gabions or the more expensive system with integrated drainage when rebuilding our 200-year-old dry stone wall.
These are vocational questions. With every mental turn, I was considering dangers. Would the wall collapse further unless the repairs were done swiftly? Was the stepladder high enough to reach the corner of the ceiling safely? Would the clamps be secure enough for sawing using the sturdy garden table, or did I need a workbench? These are health and safety questions.
My thoughts moved to another level. “How come I was equipped to consider these health and safety and vocational matters?”
I quickly recognised the very long arm of further education teachers. In the 1940s, my father left school at 14 to go to work when his father died and his mother was sent to a mental hospital. He enrolled at the Bradford ‘tech’ to learn a trade, while working in a factory, and went on to become a wool-combing expert and manager. His teachers at the ‘tech’ made a huge impact on him. Because of further education, he passed on to his children many practical skills, as well as an understanding of the underpinning theories, such as using the forces of gravity to help lift heavy loads. He inspired us to be fascinated with mathematics.
No Ofsted inspection, Framework for Excellence rating or course labelling system will do justice to the far-reaching impact of further education across generations now and in the future. Our further education and skills sector is a precious public good. We should never forget its reach and the massive contribution it makes to our nation’s and local communities’ social and economic fabric.
Nor should we forget the breadth of the reach. While on holiday in Cornwall, I visited Lansallis Church, where I chatted with the joiner working on an elaborate new screen, and admired the restoration work to the church ceilings and roof following a large fire. In response to my usual question about where he learned his skills, the joiner explained that he had trained at college in boatbuilding and that these skills transferred well to his work now. “If you think about it,” he told me, “a church is an upside-down boat, and it needs to be just as weatherproof and long-lasting!” In Cornwall’s local economy, the more seasonal employment in boatbuilding fits well with less seasonal work in heritage projects.
Vocational education does not usually get the attention and recognition it needs and deserves, so how better to start the teaching year than to hear about the proposed review of vocational education for 14 to 19-year-olds being led by Professor Alison Wolf.
The adults and young people who benefit from brilliant vocational teaching today in further education and skills will be our next generations of technical and practical specialists. They are key to our economic recovery and growth, and our ability to compete globally.
And I hope that they too will pass on an enduring vocational legacy to their colleagues and children – the long arm of further education, on high days, holidays and throughout the working year.
Toni Fazaeli is the chief executive of the Institute for Learning (IfL), the professional body for teachers, trainers, tutors and student teachers across the further education and skills sector
Read other FE News articles by Toni Fazaeli: