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Further Education is growing. More and more people both rely on it for their educationa and training, and for their employment as trainers, instructors, administrators. With this series, Further Education Talks Back, we hope to give the thoughts and opinions of the people actually working on the front line of Further Education the attention they deserve.

Following the recent attention drawn by the success of the Student Project at the YMCA in Newcastle, we asked Ruth Gilchrist, Youth and Community worker at the Newcastle YMCA and responsible for the project, some questions about her time and experiences in the Further Education sector.

Q: "What first interested you about the Further Education sector?"

Ruth: "Further education has been growing over the past 30 years in both student numbers and in the breadth of courses they offer. It caters for more of the 16 + population than schools and universities put together and covers everything from degree level engineering to cake decoration yet is often referred to as the Cinderella Service, not recognised as mainstream and considered neither schooling nor higher education. I was interested in how the YMCA could work with these young people an what it had to offer them."

Q: "How has your job developed day "“ to "“ day over the past few years?"

Ruth: "I originally came in to do the research "“ invited by the College Chaplin Tresna Fletcher, (now left) and worked across college through the Student Services department and the Chaplaincy. One I"d written the proposal I worked about half time in the college to develop it. This work concentrated on three main areas a) work with student's union (the only democratic representation for Students ); b) work with students living away from home "“ international students and those living in college accommodation, and c) outreach work on the campus with groups and individuals around interests and raising debate."

Q: "What is the one overriding issue for you in today's FE sector? How would you like to see it resolved?"

Ruth: "There is a lack of investment or value placed on keeping good staff and teachers, this is across the education sector as brining funding in becomes so important to survive the effects of government target setting make it difficult to plan long-term. E.g. in the six or seven years I"ve been here I"ve seen 4 Principals, 4 Heads of Student's Services, three teams of learning mentors, and 2 chaplains leave. As Ainley and Bailey point out FE is a Business of Learning.

"There are many excellent people working in FE that don"t seem to get the time to develop student centred learning and build on what is their best commodity "“ the students themselves. Time and resources need to be devoted to FE and its purpose. It interesting to note that according to recent research the happiest people in jobs are hairdressers the least happy are social workers and very near them are teachers."

Q: "What is your proudest moment or achievement in your work?"

Ruth: "We brought a large exhibition to the college shortly after the Asylum seekers law was brought in illustrating the plight of people seeking asylum. It was called "Far from Home" and had the interactive Fortress Europe display as part of it. We worked with Newcastle University's STAR (Student Action for Refugees) group to make it accessible to students of the college, schools and outside youth groups. We ran it for a week with workshops happening every evening and during the day for college students and schools so as a large event this was a big achievement.

"Its aim was to raise the issues of asylum seekers through photographs and interactive displays and educate people to the facts at a time when racist feelings were being stirred up and the press were very negative."

"But perhaps the students own achievements are more important. Students work with us on volunteering opportunities and its great to see how they grow from doing things they want to do or are interested in. We involve the students in doing things for themselves "“ with some support. Student have raised money for charity, have worked on summer camps with young people from the east end of London through Toynbee Halls Stepney Children's Fund, volunteered as youth workers, run music events, run dj workshops, volunteered with Greenbelt (arts festival)"“ last year 6 volunteers went to Greenbelt and ran the shower blocks for the YMCA, this year 12 students are volunteering for Greenbelt.

"10 students are going to the Make Poverty History workshops in Edinburgh through YCare, students have become peer mentors with students living away from home and have worked with students practicing English through our conversation group. Students have worked on and written issues or parts of the International newsletter and the volunteers newsletter we produce and have stood for election for SU and become active in the NUS and other organisations. 3 young people have had a nine month Gap volunteer experience with us through the Rank Foundation. The last Gap worker developed a student theatre group while the second worked with volunteer and the first with refugees."

Q: "Do you feel that the general public often misunderstand the importance of the FE sector? How can this be changed, if so?"

Ruth: "I don"t think people realise how big the sector is or how under funded. It is not given importance by government so it's hard to think how the public can appreciate a sector that for decades has been undervalued and under funded. It is asked to expand and achieve impossible targets in basic skills etc."

Q: "Do you have any further thoughts on the sector, both inside and outside the areas covered?"

Ruth: "I think the great strength of this sector is the diversity of its student population. There are in large colleges like Newcastle people from all areas of life. Such as talented people in the arts, people from different cultures and countries, people with different needs, different ages and different experiences "“ all have something to offer and would benefit in working together the more able with the less and each would learn from the experience.

"Our project is an informal education project and I feel this approach has much to offer "“ through working in canteens and corridors with groups and individuals we can talk and reach students that can otherwise become isolated this is however difficult work to maintain as outcomes are not easily shown. We know that through this approach many of the other things we do couldn"t happen getting the balance is the difficult part (between putting on activities and events; being in the students union for students who drop in or need help and going out on outreach).

"The aims of our project are to work with staff and students; to create a student friendly community within the college; to support and encourage the Student Union to develop as a democratic voice for students; and to promote a positive image of young people as citizens and contributors to college, community and society.

"Sadly these are not the main priorities set for FE and so there are problems especially in funding this area of student life. Perhaps more opportunities will come through the citizenship curriculum and extended schools? Our project has been funded by Newcastle YMCA, the Rank Foundation and Newcastle College "“ we hope to be developing the Gap Volunteer side of this project in the future."

We would like to take this opportunity to thank the Newcastle YMCA and especially Ruth Gilchrist for her help in this, and wish both her and the YMCA all the best for the future.

Jethro Marsh

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Podcasts

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.

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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.

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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.

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