From education to employment

What impact will scrapping further education coverage in the Tes have on the FE sector?

Anne Nicholls is a writer and communications consultant specialising in further education

The decision to scrap the dedicated further education coverage in the Tes (@Tesfenews) has been met with sadness, dismay and anger across the whole sector.

Although the Tes management are cancelling all news coverage (schools and FE) to focus on research, resources and advice for teachers and education leaders, it is inevitable that further education will be airbrushed out.

The strapline on their website “We power schools and enable great teaching worldwide” is proof enough.

david hughes 100 x100David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, wrote in a letter to Jo Johnson (non-executive director of the Tes):

“For the last 25 years Tes has been an influential and authoritative voice in technical and further education, helping leaders and practitioners to navigate change and championing college successes.

“It has supported a sector which is vital for our country, economy and levelling up and it has successfully held successive governments and institutions to account. The response to last week’s statement from all parts of the education sector shows that this will be a very real loss.”

The further education section of what was then called the Times Educational Supplement (TES), was launched in 1995 under the editorship of Ian Nash in response to the failure of the media to cover further education. It was an immediate success, packed with news, features and comment, supported by advertising revenue.

This spurred The Guardian to create its own section, edited by Peter Kingston. The competition saw a rapid increase in coverage of further education by both papers, whilst numerous Education Secretaries, notably David Blunkett, helped to raise its profile.

There was a clear understanding within the TES of the need to invest in and create a sharp focus for the burgeoning further education sector. At last it had a voice.

When I joined the Learning and Skills Development Agency (an organisation that provided research and resources for the sector) as communications manager in 2001 the opportunities for media coverage were abundant, which made my job a dream.

This was in sharp contrast to my previous role as press officer for City & Guilds in the early ‘nineties where my attempts to get coverage for further education stories were often met with boredom or derision. The widespread response amongst education correspondents (with a few exceptions) was that their readers would not be interested in further or vocational education because it was “not aspirational”.

At its peak there were 10 pages a week for further education in the TES print edition, plus dozens of online stories attracting tens of thousands of page views, and over 34,000 followers for @tesfenews on Twitter. It also supported countless organisations and events in the sector such as the Tes FE Awards.

However, when the TES newspaper was relaunched as a magazine in 2011 further education coverage was sidelined, until 2015 when it had a modest renaissance. By then Rupert Murdock had sold Times Supplements which were taken over by a series of private equity companies.

The current management have decided that losing news coverage – deemed to be too costly – will not damage the Tes brand.  Others disagree, judging by the comments on Twitter.

After 25 years of progress it now feels like we at back to square one, trying to raise our voices above a parapet dominated by schools and universities. The continued diffidence towards vocational and further education within the national media is exacerbated by a worrying snobbery and lack of understanding about the sector by ministers and civil servants.

Susan Higgins Jun20 100x100“This sends out the signal that further education is so low down the pecking order than even the sector media can’t hold a space for it,” says Susan Higgins, head of communications at the Edge Foundation.

“We need to do better and accord proper respect to a sector that provides millions with a route into work and high-level professional, technical and academic education.”

Well said!

We are at a crucial stage. With the Skills Bill now going through Parliament, and the world of work changed forever because of the pandemic, the digital revolution and the push for ‘green’ jobs, further and technical education is unarguably more important than ever before.

The Prime Minister and Education Secretary have both put reforming post-16 education and skills at the heart of government plans to build back better. At least they have said so.

This makes a robust sector press that takes further education seriously even more important. Thankfully we have this platform – FE News – along with FE Week to carry the torch.

But sadly we have lost some influential advocates, not least the late Richard Garner, former education editor of The Independent, along with Julia Belgutay, the departing further education editor at the Tes.

But isn’t it ironic that Jo Johnson only last year stated publicly that the snobbery towards further education simply doesn’t exist any more. Really?

The Tes has championed success, profiled innovation, uncovered corruption, held government to account and provided a voice for a sector that is fundamental to the success of the economy. Who will take up the cudgel now?

Anne Nicholls is a writer and communications consultant specialising in further education. She spent her earlier career as a lecturer in an FE college in London

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