From education to employment

New directions: What Does the New Government Mean for our Sector? 

Dr Katerina Kolyva

Dr Katerina Kolyva, CEO at the Education and Training Foundation, explores what the newly elected government means for the Further Education and Skills sector, and how we can harness the energy of a new administration to ensure the sector can best meet the needs of the society and economy it serves.

With the dawn of a new government, there are many opportunities for the sector. New ministers and new policy makers bring with them energy and enthusiasm that we, as the Further Education (FE) and Skills sector, can harness and influence to ensure we can continue to best meet the needs of learners, and our wider society and economy.

Ensuring that every individual thrives at work and has opportunities for learning and career progression across their lifetime is key to the success of the UK economy and to sustaining a fair and inclusive society. We need a skills system that produces a pipeline of skilled individuals who will design, develop, and deliver sophisticated technology and high-quality products and services, enabling the UK to compete at the highest level. Labour’s talk of a ‘skills revolution‘ to deliver its Industrial Strategy has signalled the party’s alignment with this mission. Importantly, productive work not only buoys our economy, it also drives social mobility and helps build identity and self-esteem, promoting the wellbeing of whole communities.

To deliver these essential benefits for our society and economy, the system within which FE and Skills operates needs to be dynamic, sustainable and capable of continuously improving its practices and infrastructure. The Education and Training Foundation (ETF) recently worked with Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, to produce a report – Further Education and Skills: Changing systems of change – exploring how systems thinking can help us to ensure the sector remains relevant, resilient and responsive to both challenges and opportunities.

The report proposes that, working with government and policy makers to understand the FE and Skills system as a whole, we can make carefully considered improvements to bring cross-sector benefits and build a sustainable future for the sector, those working within it and the learners who benefit from it. Labour’s manifesto commitment to a “comprehensive strategy for post-16 education” shows promise in underpinning efforts here. Applying a systems thinking lens, we need to identify both positive and negative feedback loops across the system, and look at how to break negative cycles, while amplifying positive ones.

ETF, uniting people, ideas, research and best practices from across the sector, will work with the new government and its policy makers to influence on the following priorities for the FE and Skills workforce.

Quality initial teacher education

Consistent quality in initial teacher education (ITE) produces well-prepared educators who can deliver high-quality education, directly impacting learner success and workforce readiness. At a time of significant industrial and social change – and with Labour planning to focus on innovation and clean energy as part of its Industrial Strategy – the need for effective teachers who are equipped to address evolving challenges has never been greater.

As the workforce development body and custodian of the sector’s professional standards, ETF is uniquely positioned to quality assure ITE, ensuring national consistency and excellence. We would like to see robust policy measures to ensure uniform high standards and rigour across ITE, ensuring practitioners are confident and credible in their specialism and pedagogic identity. A strong foundation for new teachers through quality ITE can then be built upon with continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities throughout their careers.

Embedding professional status and recognition nationally

ETF – through the Society for Education and Training, its membership body – delivers professional statuses for the FE and Skills sector. Through six months of CPD and reflection, educators in the sector can achieve Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills (QTLS) status, with the option to pursue Advanced Teacher Status (ATS) further on in their careers. These recognised professional statuses enable educators to demonstrate their professional mastery and show their career progress.

Elevating the professional status of FE and Skills educators fosters a culture of respect and accountability, attracting high-calibre individuals to the profession and ensuring sustained excellence in teaching. Embedding recognition of FE and Skills educators’ professional status nationally would enhance the profession’s profile, support staff retention, and improve teaching quality and learner outcomes.

Ongoing professional development

Encouraging a culture of continuous improvement, innovation and professionalisation across the sector leads to systemic positive changes that enhance overall educational experiences and outcomes for all learners. Prioritising the continuous development of the FE and Skills workforce involves ongoing CPD so that educators keep up to date with current best practices and emerging trends. A professional register with clear standards and expectations would provide a framework to underpin ongoing development, ensuring consistent quality and supporting commitments to ongoing CPD.

A positive feedback loop is set in motion when professional development and professionalisation are prioritised: practitioners take ownership of their development, they promote FE and Skills as a sector, the sector’s status is elevated, attracting more talented individuals, funding and new initiatives, which makes the sector a better place to work and learn, and recruitment and retention improves. The status of the sector is thereby elevated further, and the positive cycle continues.

Investment guided towards quality education and training

With a new government comes new funding decisions. The FE and Skills sector and its key players have emphasised the need for investment, including investment that specifically targets areas that directly impact teaching quality and learner success. ETF will strategically guide committed funding to areas of greatest need and impact on quality education and training. Targeted investment is essential to providing educators with resources and support needed to continuously improve their practice, leading to better educational outcomes for all.

Now is the time

As the dust settles in Whitehall, minds will be turning from the whirlwind of campaigning to the seriousness of government and policy making. What we do know is that improving the quality of technical and vocational education and training, and the futures of its learners, requires a focus on high quality teaching and learning – and this ultimately rests upon the shoulders of policy professionals, teachers and education leaders.

Working together, and continuing to build trust between sector organisations, our workforce, and government, we can build a brighter future. We will unlock the full potential of the FE and Skills sector so it can continue transforming lives, communities and our society and economy. After all, Further Education and Skills is the sector of social mobility, inclusion and progression.

By Dr Katerina Kolyva, CEO at the Education and Training Foundation.

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