With details of the spending review now in the public domain, it is clear that the consequences for further education are as challenging as most expected they would be. Finding £1.1 billion savings by 2014 will be no mean feat and the sector faces some major readjustments.
The FE College landscape, as we currently know it, is going to evolve – and rapidly.
As the debate continues over how much weight vocational qualifications should carry, our sector must not lose sight of what’s most important: providing a balanced, thorough and appropriate education for learners.
Discussions over vocational qualifications’ value on school league tables have threatened to overshadow the need to offer post-14 pupils the right learning choices. I spoke in my last column about the need to recognise that even from an early age, learning is a personal, individual journey. It will be more important than ever before to bear this in mind when thinking about making cost-savings, as well as analysing the current skills-gaps in society.
The recently-unveiled idea of Technical Schools and Colleges is a great way to increase the number of school leavers equipped with vocational, hands-on skills. Rather than focusing on which style of qualifications is more important, the education sector should be looking at whether young people are being given the opportunity to fulfil their own potential in the most appropriate way.
Of course league tables have their place in education, but the key consideration must always be the needs of the learners, and the needs of their future employers.
Simply put, some learners do not suit academic subjects, so they should be given the opportunity to progress and develop skills in appropriate areas and subjects as soon as possible in their education to ensure they receive a head-start in their chosen field of work.
The Technical Schools plans were unveiled by Education Secretary Michael Gove in a bid to increase the numbers of people with the skills needed to work in trades such as plumbing, engineering and mechanics.
I can only welcome the boost in vocational skills this would bring amongst school leavers as well as the additional choice that will be created for learners. This will not in any way pose a threat to traditional academic subjects, but it will instead simply allow those students who feel their future lies in more technical, hands-on vocations to get a head start and ensure they are leaving schools and colleges armed with the correct skills to form a sound basis for the rest of their career.
NCFE firmly believes that the education sector must continue to provide the right choices and options for learners in a way that meets the needs of both UK industry and the learners themselves.
These technical schools and colleges will give many learners a solid grounding in traditional – and still essential – subjects such as English, Maths and ICT, but will complement those with vocational skill sets that will help ready them for skilled work much more quickly.
There is no doubt that we can expect to see some rapid changes to our sector. However by embracing change, collaborating and streamlining our working practices, we can ensure that we continue to deliver a first-class education to our learners, deliver great value and make sure that our education system remains one of global superiority and one of which we can be proud.
David Grailey is the chief executive of NCFE, the qualification awarding body
Read other FE News articles by David Grailey: