Ian Pryce

Never mind the quality 

My grandparents loved the late 1960s comedy “Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width”, a series that revolved around the cultural differences between two tailors, one Jewish, one Catholic. The comedy came to an end but that catchphrase lives on.

It is generally taken to mean putting volume ahead of standards, and examples often hit the headlines. Trade deals that allow chlorinated chicken or the panic procurement of some lousy PPE during the early Covid crisis are two recent examples.

In further education we sometimes see it in the context of the inaccurate and disrespectful phrase “bums on seats”. A favoured college that grows will be described in glowing terms as responsive and meeting local demand. A less favoured one doing the same will be accused of mis-selling or setting students up to fail. Just think of the Universities criticised for their “mickey-mouse” degrees or creating an army of unemployable artists, to see how this view has taken hold.

At one level name-calling like this doesn’t matter, but government has levers to stop colleges in their tracks. Most obviously, your apprenticeship provision goes if Ofsted judges you poorly or you fail to stay on the register. This interventionism, and the absolute creed that it is the best way to improve quality, is causing real problems for our sector and, more importantly, for the communities we serve.

Both Dame Mary Ney and the National Audit Office have concluded the intervention regime is not working well. It is confrontational and there is scant evidence the interveners are able to achieve quick success. There is now an orthodoxy that says if you are not good at something, stop doing it. It is an orthodoxy encouraged by the Ofsted framework and league tables that prize achievement rates over how much of your community you serve.

It is very common to see provision cut back, not because of low demand, but because of low achievement rates. Interestingly we find most students and parents hold the individuals who fail accountable for their lack of success, not the college. They didn’t work hard enough.

This approach is going to backfire badly as we try to level up so the orthodoxy needs to be challenged. When I worked in retail it was common to close shops where demand was unprofitably low. But it would have been incomprehensible if a manager proposed closure of a shop that had many visitors but where sales conversion was poor or we received complaints. We would immediately address the issue. If we weren’t good the mantra was always “then get good, and fast”.

Consistent poor performance in colleges is likely to be either systemic and deep-rooted, or caused by a major shift in student numbers (new competitors or demographics). Removing the weakest areas of provision is unlikely to prove a solution in either case, and almost certain to exacerbate the problem and leave the college weakened too.

Enforced reduction in activity is counter-productive. Colleges deliver a range of educational opportunities to their communities. We don’t separate our staff across funding streams and cuts to one affect the whole institution. Funding streams are the creation of government not colleges. We don’t see the 19 year old in her third year at college as a different species to the 18 year old sat next to her whose better GCSEs meant she didn’t have to spend a year completing level 2. Any reduction in total college income can have serious impacts when your cost base is fixed and your surpluses are less than 1%.

Surely we should support colleges in trouble to maintain their volume of activity and work to improve quality, appreciating this will take time. If we don’t our communities will be impoverished. One college not far from my own used to be an outstanding £40m turnover institution. It fell on hard times but intervention left it a third the size. The quality of provision is now good but the economic impact on the town it serves is diminished and will never recover to the earlier level.

So let’s recognise that shrinking to something small, perfectly formed, but less significant is not a good look. Let’s stop being so quick to axe funding when colleges falter. And let’s stop giving “bums on seats” a bum rap and start praising those looking to grow their provision, their influence and their impact, while addressing any quality concerns at the same time. That surely is the route to levelling up.

Ian Pryce

You may also be interested in these articles:

Sponsored Video

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Advertisers

Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

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 Jan 2021, FE News had over 173,000 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, putting us in the top 2,000 websites in the UK.

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