Further Education has been under the spotlight for the last 12 months with the FE pressure gauge creeping to the red. Hot topics have ranged from teacher qualifications through to revision of the grading classification system overseen by Ofsted.
Should teachers be qualified in FE – most people could proffer an opinion, the answer to which is grounded in who should decide and what constitutes a skilled teacher? Should outcomes beyond the school/college gates be integral to overall performance and is this a stretch too far?
FE colleges will be targeted on not just getting students a qualification but their outcomes – whether they are going into employment or continued study. The knock on effect of this is an increased demand in IAG professionals; specifically those with IAG NVQ Level 4 (QCF). Here Ofsted has promised more support and priority.
The 2012 common inspection framework set the tone in FE with the revision of the college classification grading. Was the framework a fair and accurate assessment on college performance, since a high volume were downgraded to 'requires improvement' from previously being 'satisfactory'? Most Educators would agree with the principle of improvement and 'tough love' in the classroom, but in addition to the reclassification, Ofsted tightened up the college notification period from 10 working days to just 2 – another notch on the gauge.
This begs the question on who are the winners and losers when colleges are graded differently to previous expectations and how do learning institutions recalibrate quickly to stop further ingress to 'inadequate'.
The ideas driving these changes were improved 'bang for buck' from colleges and giving the auditors a real-time and more accurate reflection of how a college functions on a day to day basis.
Yet the impact of this goes beyond another metric into the sheer fabric of the teaching profession, more specifically the teacher pool and hiring practices – should such efforts seek "incremental" improvement over time or "breakthrough" improvement all at once, a concept of continual improvement, well understood by industry. Indeed Morgan Hunt is witnessing institutions investing more in Quality Assurance - a sharp demand in the recruitment of Quality Managers, up by 80% in 2013.
With improved Quality Assurance, teachers, learners and colleges are no doubt better supported operationally.
To align their hiring practices, Morgan Hunt are sending consultants 'back to school' to get them PTLLS qualified. By putting recruitment consultants in the teachers' shoes they are better able to differentiate the quality of a lecturer before placing into colleges at the same time strengthening their relationships.
The decision to make English and Maths a compulsory subject for students enrolling into FE colleges who failed to make good grades will increase the demand for Maths and English teachers.
This demand may soften in the latter half of 2014. Mainly due to the government introduction of more 'golden hello' and 'golden handcuff' incentives, not only encouraging graduates into a career in teaching but also retaining existing sector experience.
In response to this high demand Morgan Hunt, is working collaboratively with a number of teacher training providers such as the Institute of Education. They are focusing their attention on engaging candidates directly from teacher training to place into FE colleges.
This strategy benefits from augmenting already extensive internal databases; having choices on candidates and a teacher in the classroom at the beginning of term.
A further impact is on the learner - how do they feel about their 'ping pong' learning institution that's gone from 'good to gutter '. The number of providers deemed inadequate or requiring improvement jumped from 34% to 41%, including some top-ranking colleges.
The knock on effect will hit colleges in the pocket as students steer clear but those that saw improvements will be rewarded. Yet in this whole uneasy period of change, it is the learner that is set to be the biggest winner – if colleges can have a stronger say on school leavers' IAG as requested and as teachers and institutions are supported through improvement.
And the appointment of the new FE Commissioner, whose role reports directly to parliament, Dr David Collins, to closely scrutinise FE colleges; graded 'inadequate', in financial trouble or failing to hit learner success targets may also fuel a winning streak for those on the end of the food chain.
2014 will require a leap of faith by those whose job it is to make change work – the dawning of a new period of inspection which will not get any less will no doubt need to be embraced.
Looking further into 2014 however, Morgan Hunt expects change to slowly cool off with a continued demand for Q&A professionals and IAG staff. Maths and English lecturers will also lead in the skills requirements to meet political world class ambitions in these subjects.
Chris Wimshurst is education director at Morgan Hunt, the recruitment agency