John Gray is Director of Further Education for Emsi

With the start of the new academic year now in full swing, colleges up and down the country will already be turning their attention to planning their curriculum for the start of the next academic year in September 2020.

There is, however, an added dimension with the introduction of Ofsted’s new Education Inspection Framework, which sets out how inspectors will be grading colleges on a number of issues, but with three basic criteria in mind:

  1. Intent
  2. Implementation, and
  3. Impact.

Underpinning these three “i”s, is that issue of Intent, especially in relation to curriculum, and the big question Ofsted are essentially asking is this:

"Are college leaders able to show that their curriculum has been planned and developed with a real intent to give learners the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life?"

But what does this actually mean?

At its core, the idea of “Curriculum Intent” is about making sure that the courses run by a college meet the needs of the local economy, so that they can have a real impact on the lives of the students learning the knowledge to fill the identified skills gaps, the employers who benefit from that supply of skills, and ultimately the local and regional economy and community.

For example, here is what the Framework says inspectors will be looking for:

“The curriculum offers learners the knowledge and skills that reflect the needs of the local and regional context … The curriculum intent takes into account the needs of learners, employers, and the local, regional and national economy, as necessary.”

In a sense this is really just spelling out the overarching mission of the Further Education sector, which is all about giving people the knowledge and skills they need to have successful and rewarding careers that benefit not only them, but also their employers and the local community. But how can colleges ensure they are doing this; that they are heading in the right direction; and that they can articulate this to Ofsted?

Data is an integral element in answering this

To put it negatively first, without using good Labour Market Insight (LMI), alongside talking to local employers and stakeholders, planning a curriculum that is intentional in terms of meeting local skills needs is bound to be extremely difficult. Doing it to the satisfaction of Ofsted may well be impossible.

More positively, by embracing the use of detailed local LMI, colleges can begin by getting a good baseline of where they’re at in terms of currently serving local skills needs, and also a much clearer idea of what they need to do to improve. What the data does, therefore, is to help curriculum managers get a much better sense of the areas and the levels where there is need for realignment.

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In terms of the practicalities of this, it is important that colleges use a good mix of structured, trend based LMI, alongside real-time Job Postings Analytics. What the structured data allows a college to do, is to drill down into very specific industries, occupations and locations, in order to get a sense of growth over the past few years, and projections into the future. This can then be augmented by rich Job Posting Analytics, in order to build up an even better understanding of what’s going on in the local economy right now, in terms of what employers are looking for, which is critical to ensuring that colleges can build in those skills and knowledge needs into their curriculum.

Mapping provision against local economic demand

Additionally, data allows the possibility for a college to map its provision against local economic demand, and by so doing to establish which course areas the college is currently under or over supplying in, and therefore where realignment is necessary.

It could be easy to look at the Inspection Framework as something of a tickbox exercise, with LMI being used in a fairly narrow way in order to meet the requirements of the inspectors. This approach, however, would be to miss the point, both of what Ofsted are looking for in Curriculum Intent, and in the fantastic opportunities that good use of data can actually bring.

We have a number of customers who have really embedded LMI into the heart of their college, and into the heart of their curriculum, and where this has been done, you can really start to see it shaping a curriculum that is much better geared to:

  • Helping learners get onto sustainable career paths;
  • Enabling employers to get the right people with the right skills; and
  • Ultimately benefitting the local community as skills supply comes together to meet skills demand.

This is why both Curriculum Intent and data are really very exciting. I bet you never thought you’d read a sentence like that!

John Gray is Director of Further Education for Emsi, the Labour Market Insight specialists.

Emsi is running a free webinar series - Using LMI for Ambitious Curriculum Intent and Impact - which you can find out more about here.

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