From education to employment

Working with the sector for impact

Vikki Smith

Dr Vikki Smith, Executive Director, Education and Standards, at the Education and Training Foundation (ETF), explores ETF’s work with the Further Education (FE) and Skills sector, appetite for continuing professional development and professional status and standards, and the importance of FE and Skills in transforming people’s lives.

As a sector, our impact is far-reaching. Every day, educators, support staff, leaders and governors across the Further Education (FE) and Skills sector make a difference to people’s lives, delivering transformational opportunities that positively impact on individuals, their communities, and broader society. From giving an adult learner the confidence to begin a new and fulfilling career, to equipping a young person with in-demand technical skills that enable them to pursue their dream job, the impact of FE and Skills on people of diverse ages and backgrounds is profound, and often immeasurable.

At the Education and Training Foundation (ETF), we care deeply about working closely with sector colleagues and partners to support the delivery of these vital opportunities and to enable educators and leaders to continue delivering the best possible experiences and outcomes for their learners. When we launched our new strategy at the end of last year, supporting that transformational impact was front and centre, underpinned by our four strategic goals: driving professionalism to make FE and Skills a rewarding career destination; improving teaching and learning; championing inclusion by tackling inequalities in the FE and Skills workforce; and enabling sector change for a thriving FE and Skills system.

Our latest impact report, published earlier this year, demonstrates how we worked with and supported the sector from 2021 to 2023, and we now look ahead to how we build on that work, with our new strategic goals and the transformative power of FE and Skills at the heart of what we do.

Driving professionalism

Examples of outstanding professionalism and professional practice are abundant across our sector, and ETF is proud to champion that professionalism and support sector professionals to uphold high standards and disseminate best practice. Effective sector leadership is the foundation for those high standards. Between 2021 and 2023, 3,447 people engaged with our leadership development programmes, including programmes for middle, aspiring and senior leaders. Our Professional Standards for Leaders set expectations for leadership roles, helping to identify development opportunities. Meanwhile, the Professional Standards for Teachers and Trainers provide a benchmark for the sector, helping practitioners improve their teaching and outcomes for learners.

With membership of the Society for Education and Training (SET) now at more than 22,800 members, between 2021 and 2023, 153 SET members achieved Advanced Teacher Status, and as a result, Chartered Teacher status. This status enables professionals to demonstrate their mastery in teaching and learning, in turn helping them to advance to more senior roles. During the same period, a further 2,750 SET members achieved Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills status – the recognised badge of professionalism for technical and vocational teaching and training in the post-14 education sector.

Improving teaching and learning

We facilitate effective and impactful teaching and training so that learners have access to the broadest range of opportunities through their education. High-quality teaching and training unlocks learners’ potential and enables them to engage, grow in confidence, and prosper – with positive knock-on effects for their communities and broader society.

Part of that work involves supporting the FE and Skills workforce to deliver qualifications that equip learners with vital skills that are needed now and in the future. ETF has delivered more than 48,500 CPD activities through the T Level Professional Development (TLPD) programme since it began in 2019, enabling those planning and delivering T Levels to draw on targeted support. Between 2021 and 2023, 3,596 trainers and leaders were supported by the Apprenticeship Workforce Development (AWD) programme, providing them with the teaching skills, subject knowledge and confidence needed to deliver successful apprenticeships for the benefit of apprentices.

Technical teaching plays a fundamental role in addressing key challenges that we face as a society, from climate change to evolving technology. Our prestigious and competitive Technical Teaching Fellowships programme – delivered in partnership with the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 – celebrates outstanding FE and Skills practitioners for their high impact technical teaching. It supports Fellows to develop their practice and disseminate their learning, so they can help improve the quality of technical teaching and training across the sector and improve outcomes for learners.

Championing inclusion

Every learner and every member of the FE and Skills workforce should be able to feel like they belong. To grow and sustain an inclusive FE and Skills sector, ETF is working to embed inclusive practice across all our work, from delivering the Centres for Excellence in Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) programme to supporting leaders to embrace equity, diversity and inclusion through our Inclusive Leadership programme.

By being inclusive and fostering belonging, our sector can have the biggest impact in delivering social mobility and opportunities for all, regardless of background, age, gender or ethnicity. Encouraging cross-sector collaboration to ensure learners can develop basic skills such as English and maths is part of this mission. The Centres for Excellence in Maths programme, a five-year national improvement programme aimed at delivering sustained improvements in maths outcomes for 16 to 19 year olds up to Level 2, brought 21 providers together to collaborate. The colleges involved successfully cascaded their learning to nearly 12,500 practitioners across local and regional networks to support improvements for learners, including in their personal attitudes to maths.

Championing inclusion and belonging sector-wide is an ongoing process, and there is always more work to be done, but ETF remains committed to embedding inclusive practice across our work and throughout the sector.

Enabling sector change

In order to best meet the needs of learners, the job market, and wider society, our sector must be dynamic and sustainable. Collaboration and research are key here. We have already seen initiatives such as the Practitioner Research Programme (PRP) having an impact, enabling 62 FE and Skills professionals to conduct research to develop and improve their own practice and inspire others in the process. Building on this work, ETF now collaborates with the Association of Colleges (AoC) and NCFE on the Research Further project, which is helping to further drive innovation in the sector. A culture of continuous improvement and innovation drives our sector forward, enabling it to adjust to a changing landscape and evolving challenges.

Continuing impact

The current scale and pace of change in the UK is immense as we grapple with evolving technology, changing political priorities and demographics, and a challenging economic climate. In this context, the role of FE and Skills comes to the fore. Our sector is critical to both leading and responding to these changes and, by extension, to the economic, commercial and social future of the UK. 

Working with Saïd Business School, University of Oxford (Oxford Saïd), and sector stakeholders, ETF has begun to explore how the sector can continue to be seen as relevant, resilient and responsive to complex challenges and emerging opportunities. These ideas are outlined in our recently published Further Education and Skills: Changing systems of change report. To continue our collective impact across FE and Skills, our report recognises that simply asking people to do more is not an option. Instead, we propose that the system within which the FE and Skills sector operates can become self-improving. A sustainable system would be capable of continuously improving its practices and infrastructure to meet the needs of learners, job markets and wider society. Importantly, these changes would become widespread and self-sustaining, rather than piecemeal and at considerable personal and/or organisational cost. We encourage colleagues across the sector to engage with these ideas and join us in the ‘art of the possible’: working towards a self-improving FE and Skills system, so that together we can ensure our sector continues to deliver transformational impact in our changing world.

Dr Vikki Smith, Executive Director, Education and Standards, at the Education and Training Foundation

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