I have been in the FE sector for the best part of 25 years. Through this period we have adopted jargon to reflect the key strategies we have been following at various points. Some of the terminology has been short-lived, some has lasted the course and some has been in and out of vogue during these 25 years.
Frequently the in-words and phrases have reflected our perception of our sector as dynamic, responsive and student-focused. Those relating to meeting the needs of our students have been particularly popular e.g. student-centred learning, independent learning, students taking responsibility for their own learning and many more.
Despite all of the above it causes me much frustration that, despite the focus on the massively differing capabilities and needs of individual students, we find it impossible to deviate from the long-established traditions. All courses start in September and finish in June, they start at 9am and they finish at 5 and they last for a prescribed length, 1 year for level 2, 2 years for level 3 etc. So, how student-focused are we?
The new Study programmes are a welcome opportunity to look afresh at how we prepare young people for work or further studies. The funding methodology provides the flexibility for a wide range of complementary activities which best prepare the individual student to progress. The FELTAG (Further Education Learning Technology Action Group) recommendations regarding the development of eLearning are particularly welcome in providing encouragement to invest in resources which may genuinely respond to individual student need. If colleges invest significantly in technology and develop learning resources which genuinely enable students to learn in a place, at a time, and at a pace that suits them, then this could be the catalyst to the change which has long been promised by the sector in the phrases above.
The aim should be to encourage colleges to work together to produce flexible materials which can be used throughout the country, unlike at present where every college is independently developing such resources. What a waste of resources this is!
During the many discussions regarding shared services, this area was strangely neglected. Students will always need to attend workshops to learn vocational skills and to attend tutorials and seminars in order to share their understanding with other students. However, the benefits of a teacher presenting a body of knowledge or describing the use of skills in a general purpose classroom are surely becoming increasingly limited. How many teachers, never mind school leavers, would attend a class to enhance their knowledge or to watch a demonstration of a skill, instead of referring instantly to Wikipedia or Youtube?
The FELTAG report establishes an ambition for providers to deliver up to 50% of each course by eLearning. This does create risks in terms of the reduction of teaching costs without a compensating investment in high quality resources and learning technology. However, if delivered appropriately, this initiative may enable colleges to deliver the ambitions of the last few decades with students learning at their own pace, using materials which differentiate for a variety of learning styles and capabilities, and which enable them to genuinely take responsibility for their own learning. Surely the days of a level 3 course which has to start at 9am on a Monday morning in September and finish at 5pm on a Friday afternoon in June 2 years later are numbered?
John Spindler is deputy principal of Hopwood Hall College in Rochdale, North West of England