At the Milton Keynes College Group, we’ve just held our first College in the Community day, where more than six hundred students and staff got involved in making a difference to the people with whom we share this City.
The events could not have been more varied from hardy perennials like litter picking, collecting and packing boxes of supplies for users of the local foodbanks and the YMCA to the more unusual, like helping conserve items at the City’s museum and producing digital avatars for local charities.
It’s a nice thing to do, but as well as helping some extremely deserving local groups and individuals, it brings home a message to the students, staff and our communities that the College exists not as an island alone and of itself, but as a cog within the machine which is the local community. The impact of local residents seeing our students out litter picking (yes, they wore brightly coloured vests so they were easily identifiable), sharing a responsibility for their environment, cannot be underestimated.
The pleasure and thanks from local residents who were served a three course lunch from our AA- rated Brasserie, planned, prepared and served by our students, was wonderful to experience. And we had myriad similar activities taking place with our prison education teams across the country, carrying out events to support the local communities where they are based.
Colleges are coming to grips with the paperwork around FE’s reclassification
It’s interesting that this comes at a time when colleges across the land are busily coming to grips with the paperwork around FE’s reclassification by the ONS (Office for National Statistics) as public bodies, Accountability Statements and the production of Local Skills Employment Plans with much emphasis on colleges’ links to employers and the fitness for purpose of our curricula.
My point is that links come in many forms; those with business are essential (and many of our activities this week will lead to better employer links), while painting and decorating the buildings where local charities provide counselling or surveying a local footpath to make it safer for the public to access (as has been done by our construction students) are equally core to our vision.
Colleges need to look for ways to expand their links
To fulfil their role in society, colleges need to be constantly looking for ways to expand their links to those around them. The harder they are to reach, the harder we have to work to find those connections. At Milton Keynes College Group, we have a Friends and Allies Network, which provides a bridge to all kinds of groups supporting a range of needs across the City. We work hard on relationships with our civic partners like the local council and the Chamber of Commerce.
The curriculum of our IoT (South Central Institute of Technology) is drawn up in conjunction, not just with local employers, but with our strategic partners including companies like KPMG and Microsoft. We have a newly opened business facility, the Chaffron Centre packed with the latest business technology, and we constantly invite local entrepreneurs to come to see what benefits such exciting opportunities can bring them.
This is not the whole story
However, this is not the whole story. Yes, it’s great for us to be able to forge links with all these disparate groups so we can attract more students and develop relevant skills to support the City, but we need to maximise the wider benefits for our students and staff too. In other words, as much as we have to learn about our community’s needs in terms of education and training, our people also need to discover what makes the different groups and individuals with whom we share this place, tick.
I would hope that everyone who’s been involved with a foodbank or a charity or any other local people while taking part in this event will have learned more about their own human environment, that they will have a greater understanding of what their community really is.
Greater understanding leads to greater participation
Greater understanding leads to greater participation, and democracy and society are nothing without that. We want our students to engage with the authorities and groups that impact on their lives. We want them to be at the forefront of local campaigns, be they for better streetlighting or playparks or safer streets.
Our Group ethos is enshrined in our Fairer Futures Strategy where the phrase, Fairer Futures for All is that clarion call which, above anything else, we want our students to be inspired by, as much as we want them to gain qualifications and potential careers. We want to instil in them that sense of civic pride and duty which will make them active citizens, Fairer Futures Ambassadors.
FE Colleges are an anchor within their communities, though this is often not understood or appreciated. We are institutions that can be trusted to do the right thing for the people who are not just our customers, but also our community.