Further education (FE) in England is being strengthened and reformed by UK Government, with area reviews one of the most significant planks in this process.
Area reviews are set to strengthen the sustainability and delivery of FE in England. It is government's belief that reviewing the provision of vocational education across the country, and the prospect of organisational mergers, will allow the country to move towards fewer, larger, more resilient and efficient colleges, that support collaboration and strengthen local partnerships.
It's a big aspiration, of course – and attaining this utopian vision where every college is financially resilient, viable and offering exceptional learning environments that meet local demands, is no small task.
Fundamental to achieving this transformation, is the effective use of technology.
At Jisc we've long held the conviction that increased use of technology is the key to unlocking new efficiencies and excellent teaching and learning.
The FE commissioner, Department for Education (DfE) and the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) also agree, seeing technology as critical in supporting the delivery of the area reviews and implementing the outcomes successfully.
As the digital technology organisation for the sector, by the sector, we are committed to supporting colleges through this process.
We have services and skills to support the use of technology and provide efficiencies for colleges – particularly when that relates to creating an infrastructure and delivery model that is technology-led, based on shared service models, effective, efficient and fit for the future, and regarded as world leading.
For the area reviews to be effective, it's important to get a clear view of current provision at both the institutional and local level, where it needs to go – and how technology can help you to get there.
As each wave of area reviews gets underway, we are here to offer our help and support you to make informed decisions around your use and need for technology.
We attend an initial meeting with college principals and governors, ahead of the first steering group, where we explain how we can help provide them with the information they need to make informed decisions about how technology can work for everyone at the college.
One of the ways we're attempting to support colleges is by offering free tools to make a 'deep dive' into their current operations.
After the initial meeting, we will provide participating colleges with a link to a specially-developed online technology review tool, along with guidance and a deadline for completion, which will allow them to establish technology usage and effectiveness, and identify improvements to back office systems and curriculum delivery.
We'll also provide them with an online financial review tool to assess technology-related expenditure.
Data analysis from both review tools will enable us to provide principals and governors with intelligence that should help them to make informed decisions. For example, using this data we can advise colleges on potential efficiency savings by using technology more effectively, and suggest alternative technology approaches, such as improvements to back office systems and teaching, learning and assessment practices.
It's then up to the college to implement these recommendations and if needed, we're on hand once again to support by highlighting particular technologies and tools that will be beneficial.
We'll be in touch as your area starts to go through the reviews. Look out for an email from Jisc, or in the meantime find out more about our area review process, speak with your account manager or call the customer contact centre on 0203 006 6077.
Sue Attewell is head of change for FE and skills at Jisc