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Trust us to shape FE and Skills for the future, urge sector leaders in new FE Collective report

FE Collective report: sector reaction

The UK’s FE and Skills sector will deliver the workforce this country needs if given greater autonomy, a clearer funding framework and better guidance on emerging technologies, according to a new report written by leaders in further education.

FE colleges are being held back by a ‘parent-child relationship’ of Government micro-management and a complex, convoluted system of investment that makes it nearly impossible to plan for the future, says the FE Collective Report.

A collaboration of some of the leading professionals, thinkers and academics in the field, the FE Collective examined three critical areas for the future of FE and Skills – Artificial Intelligence (AI), investing in the sector and future routes for progression. Key findings include:

  • Complicated, scarce and lagged public funding of FE and Skills must be replaced with a more agile, localised and modular system of investment and provision
  • The Government’s ‘parent-child’ micro-management of FE and Skills should be scrapped in favour of greater autonomy and trust in the sector’s knowledge, understanding and vision for its future
  • FE and Skills can become more ‘investment ready’ for public and private investors with a long-term strategic plan that gives clarity on skills needs for the jobs of the future
  • AI can revolutionise learning for the better – but more investment is vital alongside better guidance on safeguarding and ownership of data
  • Professionalisation of the sector is key to its progress, with educators, leaders and governance given better guidance on progression routes and continuing professional development

Founded by FE News, the FE Collective is an innovative new initiative in which industry reports are written collectively at in-person events that examine key issues in the sector.

This FE Collective Report pulls together insights and commentary from scene-setting, panel discussions and working groups at a FE Collective conference in Birmingham on 17 October 2023, sponsored by awarding organisation NCFE and attended by more than 100 educators and other specialists in the field of FE and Skills.

The results-focused report will be shared and discussed with FE and Skills policy makers, investors and other decision-makers with influence on the future of the sector.

FE News CEO and FE Collective founder Gavin O’Meara said:

“The FE and Skills sector needs to come together and it needs to have a united voice, but we also need to know where to go, and I think the first FE Collective helped us to work out what is the direction of travel and what is our voice and where do we need to be going next.

“Our first FE Collective has been really interesting. We have been able to get so many different parts of the eco-system together, so we’ve had investment bankers, to people who are interested in the development of skills in the FE workforce and the labour market, college principals, training providers, awarding bodies. It has just been brilliant to connect them in different ways, to share ideas, share solutions and give everyone in the sector a voice. What’s important is that we are looking at the opportunities, challenges and solutions, but also what are the actions.”

You can review the report, sponsored by NCFE and Education and Training Foundation (ETF), here.

FE Collective Reflective: Sector Reaction

David Gallagher, CEO of NCFE:

“We’re at the foothills of a revolution in learning. What we learn, how we learn, where we learn, and how often we need to unlearn and relearn, is changing completely. Yet our mainstream education system still does things the way we did it in the first industrial revolution.

“We need to think in revolutionary terms by asking what’s possible but do this collectively; learning from a whole raft of stakeholders with ideas, thoughts, and data to inform the change. It’s why we were so keen to support FE News on this initiative and bring together a diverse mix of perspectives.”

Elena Magrini, Head of Global Research, Lightcast:

“The FE Collective showed that as much as the Further Education sector needs to embrace change and be agile in adopting trends like AI into the curriculum, career guidance, and internal processes. Doing this effectively requires solid strategies based on real, market-led intelligence of the skills that are needed.

“Using cutting-edge labour market insights to identify and analyse AI trends is therefore a key component of helping the sector take the kind of confident and appropriate steps that ultimately mean both individuals and employers can truly reap the value of these new and emerging technologies.”

Professor Tom Bewick, Chief Executive at Ecctis & Professor of Skills and Workforce Policy:

“The FE Collective is about the sector taking back control of the narrative on skills and workforce development. This solutions-based report is a brilliant example of educators from across the skills eco-system stepping up to the challenge of big changes in technology and our economy in the years ahead.

“With a general election looming, I hope politicians and policymakers take the recommendations on board. At the end of the day, solving the productivity puzzle and investing in skills is a collective responsibility.”

Chris Cherry, Director, Red Cherry Projects:

“This report of the collective voice of the FE sector will resonate at a time when we are at a crossroads of policy, strategy, technology and momentum. The advent of exciting and influential technology should herald a new era of innovation, bravery and courage to think a little differently about our system of education.

“As you will read in the report, we are moving from conventional systems of education and especially assessment, to a more dynamic and contextualised system of competence and evidence-led skills development. New technologies in AI can drive engaging, vivid and realistic education, coupled with building trust in the sector to perform and deliver.

“It is clear that the oversight of our educational future needs a firm and honest refresh. Lengthy delays in the conversion of ideas into policy and policy into strategy and strategy into delivery must become the past, otherwise we will fall further and irretrievably behind our friends across the waters.

“Happy reading and if it inspires you, then why not get involved?”

Simon Ashworth, Director of Policy, AELP said:

“The FE Collective is an innovative new forum, brilliantly founded by FE News, that gives stakeholders the space to tackle big questions.

“Its first report is a bold document, outlining what a transformed skills system could look like in the age of Artificial Intelligence. From curriculum to assessment, the sector needs to be bolder in seizing these opportunities to revolutionise the way students learn.

“AELP is playing its part in this conversation, with its own AI summit on 1st February.”

Neil Wolstenholme, Kloodle Chairman said:

“The FE Collective has offered a new way of doing things. It feels, well, collective! I was surprised how consistent the issues across the whole FE industry are.

The widespread, mainstream introduction of AI means life is going to change…and very fast. Especially for young people. The world of education has to support those life changes or will be in danger of being assigned the label “not fit for purpose”.  Young people will need be equipped with the ‘human’ skills to be able to adapt to multiple careers over their lifetime. Total reform of education is required and what FE News is instigating feels like it is the start of a movement to do just that. Come on and join the movement!!”

Katerina Kolyva, CEO of ETF said:

“The first FE Collective was a fantastic opportunity for colleagues to share ideas about how collectively we can help tackle some of the biggest challenges in the sector. ETF was delighted to support this event, and we very much welcome the publication of the report. The report demonstrates the shared passion and goodwill across the sector for how we can come together to support a thriving and sustainable FE and Skills sector.”

Jan Richardson-Wilde, CEO, Occupational Awards Limited said:

“For Further and Higher Education in the UK to remain highly regarded internationally with creative and challenging learning environments, we must embrace the advancements in technology presented to us by the rapid development and integration of AI in the modern world. The FE Collective provided a platform to recognise this transformative and powerful technology and how it can shape the future of further and higher education worldwide. We must embrace these innovations not just out of choice but because it is our responsibility, we owe it to the students of today, our workforce of the future. Children studying in primary schools across the country today will go on to work in job roles that will inevitably use AI, many of these jobs are yet to exist. By understanding and harnessing the potential of AI we can revolutionise UK education, fostering a dynamic learning environment that equips our youth with the skills and knowledge essential for success in the ever-evolving world.”

David Hughes, CEO, Association of Colleges:

“I welcome the inaugural report of the FE Collective. The FE sector is incredibly lucky to be full of experts who are passionate about post-16 education and skills and determined to make a difference, and it is great to see so many voices come together in this way. 

“AoC recognises the three themes of AI, investment in the sector of the future and progression as important areas for debate and discussion and looks forward to seeing how the work of the FE Collective develops and influences going forward.” 

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