Lee Parker is Director of Marketing & Communications at Milton Keynes College.

So how’s it been for you?

The world of college communications has been turned upside down in the current crisis. We’re all largely huddled at home, peering into our devices, trying to turn a face-to-face organisation into one existing purely in the ether. There are many heroic tales of colleges doing remarkable work to make sure we continue to look after our staff and our students, the businesses we have such important ties with and our wider communities. Everyone seems to agree that nothing will ever be the same. One day we will go back to work together again, but it is vitally important that the lessons learnt are not filed away in a dusty folder entitled, “The pandemic,” never to be reopened.

Lesson One. How saying, “I don’t know” can be a positive.

The first lesson we learnt at Milton Keynes College was to always remember our audience. Our institution comprises a general FE college spread over three campuses, a prison education programme across the country and the nascent South Central Institute of Technology. As communications people we’re all based on the main campus, and frankly, in the early days of lockdown it showed. Some of our colleagues working in those other areas gently pointed out to us that everything we were saying was campus-centric – it’s our environment, it’s the bit we see so it’s the part we most easily talk about. Once this had been mentioned we held up our hands, apologised to those who felt left out and changed the way we did things. The result has been entirely positive. By admitting where we went wrong, explaining that we didn’t have all the answers, that we were adapting minute-by-minute and did not entirely know where we were going to end up, confidence in our communications appears to have grown rather than diminished. People are comforted by the admission that we were finding our way through this as much as they were. Admitting you don’t know all the answers is a great way of showing you’re transparent, human and honest.

Lesson Two. We’re the good guys and we will have our reward.

Colleges are forces for good. We create opportunity, we care about our learners, we support our communities. Students and staff have been involved in a plethora of initiatives to do the good and neighbourly thing in recent weeks from 3D printing PPE, to distributing food parcels, to producing fitness videos. This is how we behave in normal times, so why would we change now? The point is that good works usually go largely unnoticed.

Advertisement

During this crisis, a spotlight has been shone on people’s behaviour. Organisations which have been perceived as heaving up the drawbridge have had a rough time in PR terms. Ask people what they think of Virgin or Sports Direct today and the response will be significantly more negative than before lockdown. People will remember them, and they’ll also remember companies like Timpson – a brilliant business of which Milton Keynes College has had really incredible experiences who look out for their staff and play an incredible role in their community. And it’s not just the big businesses. There are countless tales of local shops and restaurants supporting their vulnerable neighbours. They’re not just trying to create a good impression but to do what’s right. As consumers we can tell the difference and we will remember.

This represents a huge opportunity for colleges. We’ve shown that we can be incredibly agile – an unexpected benefit of living through a decade of shrinking budgets perhaps. At Milton Keynes College we went from traditional classroom delivery to a full online timetable over a weekend. On Friday students were attending their classes in person and on Monday they were signing in to Microsoft Teams. I don’t think anyone watching current developments in education would suggest that many schools or universities could match the rapidity of FE’s response – and we need to remember that in our future communications.

Colleges are so often perceived as a second choice but our ability to simultaneously care for our communities while adapting to such dramatic changes in our working conditions are things to shout about. They will not only help with the recruitment of students but also of top quality staff – who wouldn’t want to work for an organisation that’s proved it looks after people?

Lesson Three. We’re in the business of learning from business.

Since the introduction of the current apprenticeship system, we’ve had to develop much better links with business than we ever had before. Organising apprenticeships, industry placements, work experience – all of these have required us to far better understand how industry works. Some of the good practices of the best companies have rubbed off.

At Milton Keynes College we’ve benefitted hugely from working with Microsoft for example. They introduced us to the joys of Teams a little while ago and that foreknowledge has been invaluable. We’ve just held our first apprenticeship recruitment process entirely online. Candidates visited our virtual recruitment centre and were taken from initial interest through to being whittled down to the two available spaces and appointed. They’re both excited and ready to start with their new employers and the whole process took just ten days. It proved we’re still open to providing employment opportunities in spite of the crisis. This is the kind of service colleges can offer which they can’t be found elsewhere.

Lesson Four. The old normal was not sustainable

Ask the average 17 or 18 year old about what matters to them outside their own lives and sustainability is a life-defining issue for them. Even if there is no vaccine for COVID-19 for a decade, the green agenda will have far greater longevity. Young people appreciate that this enforced period of staying in one place has desirable side-effects for the environment. Because of this more than anything the move online will never be entirely reversed. There will be no going back to how things used to be.

Digital literacy is of course crucial as is the access to technology. There are challenges around ensuring no one gets left behind and we must make sure everyone has access to the technology they need to fulfil their potential. The brave new post-coronavirus world will bring forth opportunities like this to actually be more inclusive than before. Students struggling to get into college because of the vagaries of public transport or other personal physical or mental obstacles may find it much easier to come in for two days a week for their practical sessions while doing the rest of their studies online. It could be a great leveller.

Communications will be central to making the new world function as it should. In spite of the difficulties we all face we must remain positive and mustn’t allow a generation of students to feel like they were the ones who missed out. We must leave no one behind. The onus is on us, the college communicators to continue to speak the language of opportunity around our deeply rooted links with employers.

Coronavirus has been a crash course for the future. Keeping talking will be the key to emerging from it to provide a better service for students than ever we did before.

Lee Parker is Director of Marketing & Communications at Milton Keynes College.

You may also be interested in these articles:

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In May 2020, FE News had over 120,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.

Podcasts

We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.

Events

FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page