Professor Frank Coffield gave an impassioned speech at the lively Newbubbles Annual Conference ‘The Future of Further Education’ last week, opening up an important debate for the sector.

The Emeritus Professor of Education at the Institute of Education, University of London, was on fire as he held the torch high for FE, particularly its learners and lecturers. He praised the many social benefits that participation in the sector brings, but also criticised the government for having a narrow focus on skills and employment.

High on his list of questions was whether students leave FE colleges as skilled workers as well as being active citizens - and whether they would cope with the main threats to our collective wellbeing, such as climate change.

He answered them with an emphatic ‘no’.  And he made a good case, if it was needed, that it is government policy that stands in the way of the sector.

Throughout his speech Coffield gave a variety examples, ranging from the competitive nature that government fosters between colleges to the emphasis on business management rather than education practice, that he believes have been costly in human and monetary terms, and an emphasis of a type of learning that he likens to the sector illness of ‘bulimia academica’, which is also the title of his forthcoming book.

He said: “Our students are reduced to bulimic learning. To get through their studies and exams, they binge on information and in government induced bouts of vomiting, which we call national tests, they spew up as much as they can remember.”

The equivalent of a societal peer pressure on young people to want to be thin, seems to be the pressure to get an A* grade. Far from diagnosing the patient without having talked TO HER about symptoms, Coffield told his audience that he is frequently told on his working visits to colleges that the climate in the sector is “toxic”.  He blames an increased amount of stress and workloads, declining sociability at work, endless paperwork, more surveillance of tutors and graded lessons. Instead, colleges should focus on becoming learning communities, in which learning becomes the central organising principle, not only for learners and tutors but also for managers.

He said colleges need to invest in TLA (teaching, learning and assessment) through substantial increases of their CPD budgets, stocking libraries with evidence-based education journals and books, giving staff opportunities to study for higher degrees, and giving senior management time to TLA by making it a standard agenda item.

Central to success is also the encouragement of risk-taking and an end to graded observations to encourage self-reflection, he continued. Coffield did not pretend that any of these ideas would be new to the sector, which he so clearly feels whole-heartedly part of, but that they need to permeate the system. However, he made it quite clear that there is much that the government needs to do to enable this, and central to that is the need for a professional voice of the sector that must be heard when policy is being developed.

“You are invisible when policy is being developed and you become indispensable when it has to be enacted,” he said.

He told the crowd of managers and lecturers that the sector prides itself on its responsiveness, but “I think you are too responsive, I think it is high time you stood up and started making minimal requirements of government.”

He finished by sharing what wakes him at 4 in the morning - the voice of the predecessors in FE asking: “What are you going to do to defend the sector?”

Andrea Gewessler is director of Change that Matters Ltd, an independent company working with organisations and communities to bring about transformational change through dialogue, collaboration and innovation, and is particularly active in the sustainability field. Her work is inspired by systems thinking, the U-process developed at MIT as well as some of the emerging social technologies such as Future Search, Open Space, Change Labs and World Cafe. You can follow Andrea on Twitter , and Facebook, or find out more about her by visiting

(Photograph credit: Seamus Ryan)

Newbubbles is a successful specialist training & consultancy in further education, based in Portsmouth, whose mission is to support colleges and teachers improve teaching, learning & assessment in post-compulsory education using nationally-respected speakers and trainers

Sponsored Video

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Newsroom Activity

Westminster Forum Projects (WFP) added a new event 9 hours

Next steps for SEND provision in England - the SEND...

This conference will be an opportunity to discuss the future for SEND provision in England, following the expected publication of the Government’s...

  • Tuesday, 29 March 2022 09:00 AM
  • Online
Tina Morris has published a new article: Top Digital Solutions to Help Graduates Get Hired 10 hours 7 minutes ago

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In Jan 2021, FE News had over 173,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector, putting us in the top 2,000 websites in the UK.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.


We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.


FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page