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Moving the needle for FE: How do government spending commitments stack up?

Sam Blyth, Director of Schools and FE, Instructure
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How can the government’s spending commitments move the needle for #FE?

Further Education (FE) institutions have long been promised the full attention of the Department for Education (DfE), and in the wake of December’s General Election we saw progression towards this goal, with the promise of additional funding going into 2020 and beyond.

However, while news of this kind can point to better fortunes for educators, it tells us very little about where the money will (and ultimately should) be spent.

Working with institutions across the country affords us a privileged insight into the sector’s priorities for 2020 and beyond. So, if FE is to benefit from an injection of funding from the top, where should this windfall actually be directed?

Avoiding a T Level crisis

Bringing the standards of technical education in the UK in line with those of other European nations has been a focus in recent years. However, while the new wave of funding will be welcomed, it still doesn’t match up to the amount requested by The Association of Colleges in February 2019. The group says that over £1.2 billion per year is needed to avoid a T-levels crisis.

Before moving out of the DfE, Damian Hinds suggested that there was an opportunity to “realise the huge potential of technology to transform our schools so that teachers have the time to focus on teaching.” And, indeed, without quite enough funding to increase teaching hours across the board to the required level, many institutions are likely to view blended learning as a viable alternative – hire more tutors or teachers, but also use tech to make the existing classroom hours count for more.

Accessibility is Key

Increasing the flexibility and accessibility of courses is, of course, a priority. This enables colleges to put a greater emphasis on facilitating ‘flipped learning’, which makes it possible for face-to-face tuition time to be more focused on things that can’t yet be learned remotely. It goes without saying that this is essential in technical education – and giving classroom teachers time back can only be done by lowering the barriers to effective self-directed learning.

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However, colleges need platforms that bring elements such as submitting work, receiving feedback, monitoring progress and learning via multimedia together in a simple way. At Instructure, we’ve seen from our partner colleges that if students feel like they are wasting time by using ineffective, clunky systems or having to load up four or five different platforms just to see one task through, they quite simply will give up. This jeopardises their progress and puts additional pressure back on classroom teaching time to bridge the gap.

The Stakes are High

Investing in technology could prove to be a significant leveller. In addition to helping the UK as a whole to meet the demands of future employment, colleges have the potential to act as engines of social mobility. Furthermore, many FE colleges also serve non-urban communities, where people are more spread out and so making it to and from the college of your choice can be easier said than done.

By improving access and flexibility on study hours, technology does a job that can’t be achieved by increasing teacher numbers alone. The Conservative manifesto in 2017 pledged to establish ‘Institutes of Technology (IoT)’ in every major city, with one eye on this kind of equality of opportunity in areas of the country that have tended to be underfunded and even marginalised.

Current policy suggests that these IoTs will see collaboration between colleges, universities and employers, focusing on education below degree level. In the best-case scenario, this will see a new era for Further Education, whereby pooling resources, technical and vocational education can get the push forward it badly needs. But in order to make this happen – and to make the most of teaching contact hours too – if there is a windfall coming for the sector, some of it needs to be ring fenced for technology.

Sam Blyth, Director of Schools and FE, Instructure

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