From education to employment

Taking back control of Further Education and its Future Pedagogies

Bob Harrison, Chair of Governors, Northern College for Adults

Future Pedagogies – The Context 

In his very helpful BERA paper The origins of Further Education in England and Wales (2019) Ross Goldstone, of Cardiff University tracks the roots of FE.

He is careful to point out that there is “a lack of historical accounts of the further education (FE) sector in England and Wales, which is reflective of its broader historical-cultural positioning.

FE sits between secondary schooling and higher education, delivering vocational, mixed and academic provision to school-leavers and adult learners”.

He goes on to point out that the origins of the sector derive from the self-help efforts of such organisations as The Mechanics Institutes and voluntary organisations or private individuals in the 19th century:

The absence of state intervention can be understood as a product of the contemporary context, in which education for the working population was met with scepticism, a cultural disposition in favour of liberal education and against ‘utilitarian’ education existed, and a complacent belief in liberalism regarding development prevailed

The People’s College

My first head of department role was at the North Derbyshire Tertiary College in a mining community just outside Chesterfield. The original two-storey redbrick buildings at the centre of the college, which had grown to be the thriving heart of the community were built not by the state or the council but the miners’ “penny levy”.

At the end of their pay day shift, when brought to the surface, there was a can hung on a wall. The miners opened their pay packets and dropped a penny in the can. When they had enough money they built the two school rooms so they and their families could learn to read and write.

As a vice-principal of The People’s College in Nottingham I discovered the foundation stone in the boiler room which was inscribed:

“The People’s College – Erected by Voluntary Contribution for the Education and Training of the working class forever”.

There were many “People’s Colleges” scattered around the country as it became a movement and some of our famous universities were formed from “People’s Colleges”.

The main point here is that the roots of the Further and Adult Education sector do not derive from the altruism of employers or the government drive for skilled workers who contribute to the economy and wealth, but from an intrinsic desire for self-improvement from individuals, their families and their communities.

As Goldstone highlights:

The state first became involved in vocational education via the Technical Instruction Act 1889. Crucial to this legislative change was growing appreciation by the government of the relative development of industrial productivity in Europe.

Local committees tasked with satisfying the demand for vocational education were created, whose funding came from a levy on alcohol consumption – dubbed the ‘Whisky Tax’ – which was used to develop technical education institutions…

Further legislation followed in 1902 when Local Authorities were created but it was not until 1944 that the Further Education Sector was legally established:

This act defined the sector as providing (a) full-time and part-time provision for post-school aged pupils, and (b) leisure-time occupation. Broadening FE provision meant that the sector became further diversified, and a shift from part-time, evening study to full-time study in FE institutions was precipitated. It is from these reforms that the mixed economy of provision in today’s sector, and its status as ‘the Cinderella sector’, emerged.

Skills for jobs: lifelong learning for opportunity and growth

The Government published its eagerly anticipated White Paper in January 2021. I had been hoping to save a few words to conclude this context setting for Future Pedagogies with some inspiration.

Sadly I cannot find any in this long awaited, over-hyped policy paper promising to “reform” the FE landscape. Instead we have a very disappointing, under-powered narrow employer and productivity focused mishmash of rhetoric and repeated ideas which does nothing to move us forward from when the State first intervened in Further and Vocational Education at the turn of the century.

In fact it is worse than that as the narrow focus on economic productivity and skills for work fails to recognise the true roots of further education, the intrinsic human desire for community and self-improvement.

We hope by reading these articles in this journal you will be motivated to reflect on the future of our sector by reconnecting with its origins and the intrinsic human desire for self and community improvement so obviously absent from Government thinking, and that it will also strengthen your desire to take back control of Further Education and its Future Pedagogies.

Bob Harrison, Chair of Governors, Northern College for Adults

Future FE Pedagogies – Vol 1

The Future FE Pedagogies journal was categorically not intended to be a ‘how to improve your e-learning skills’ guide – there are professional associations, websites and online materials fulfilling this function already. 

Rather, we aimed to provide for time poor colleagues a series of think pieces: nuanced analyses of the potentialities and challenges of TEL for our practice.

Future FE Pedagogies – Vol 1 Preface

David Hughes


Future Pedagogies – The Context

Bob Harrison


Rethinking the improvement of teaching and learning in a virtual environment through unseen observation

Matt O’Leary


Free, easy and fit for purpose TEL: lessons learned the hard way by a non IT whizz

Martin Compton


Research from the front: A Developing Digital Project

Matt Gordon & Jan Calvert


Pedagogy at the centre – getting the blend right

Eddie Playfair


Ways of Engaging: some approaches to developing learning skills

Ian Duckett


The Proverbs of TEL

Howard Scott


Digital Practitioners creating “artfully-crafted, student-centred, learning experiences”

Nigel Ecclesfield & Fred Garnett


Moving a class online

Dave Cheseldine


The Reality of FE TEL Post-Covid-19: Thoughts from the bike by an FE Teacher Educator

Jamie Heywood


An open letter to the Secretary of State for Education: preparing FES teachers and trainers to ‘teach well’ in a digital world

David Powell



Vikki Liogier


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