Someone once told me that if ever I wanted to give something up, I should always do it in February, because it is the shortest month in the year. However, as I start this new working week on the first day of the new month, I’m more focused on things that start up…

This week is Apprenticeships Week, and my boss is swapping his suit for a set of overalls and working as a motor vehicle apprentice for the afternoon in a local garage to highlight the work we do as a college with local businesses as part of our Apprenticeship training programmes. Later in the week he will be meeting up with another of our apprentices as they work-shadow him for a day. Things like this are fun and can help to build a better understanding of another person’s world.

But that’s not why he’s doing it. We are looking to raise awareness of Apprenticeship opportunities locally and to promote this important week in the FE sector’s calendar because as well as our own work with Apprentices; as a college we play an active role in supporting the work of the Further Education Reputation Strategy Group.

Established in 2007 as a sector-led group to enhance the national reputation of Further Education, the group is working to see the FE sector recognised nationally, regionally and locally as confident and high performing and as the powerhouse for delivering the skills that are needed to sustain an advanced and competitive economy.

Developing a national voice for the sector

One of the group’s key strengths is its ability to develop agreement and facilitate networking amongst key players from across the whole of the Further Education sector.

The core membership includes representatives from private training providers, colleges, voluntary sector organisations, AoC, ALP, the Sixth Form Colleges Forum, 157Group, LSIS, LLUK, other agencies and government. Seventeen different organisations or representative bodies, backed by an advisory panel, ensure that the group is at the forefront of activity and provides a platform for open and frank discussions on all the issues and activities affecting further education providers and our students.

It is this sharing of information behind the scenes - and the resulting discussions amongst members - that plays a significant role in helping to ensure a strong, single voice for further education is maintained. And critically, one that is helping to make sure the reputation of the sector as a whole is enhanced.

So what?

A good reputation for the FE sector is essential to achieving the national objectives set by government and other economic and social stakeholders. And although the overall image of the sector is extremely important in helping frame this, because of the community based nature of many of the services we provide, it is at the level of the individual college or training provider where reputation is most critical in the context of influencing and supporting the student, learner, parent or employer in their choices.Trouble is, there has been precious little research into the reputation of the FE sector and that which has been undertaken, has identified issues rather than promulgated solutions. So many providers don’t always know what it is they should be doing to improve their local reputations and in some cases have neither the resources nor expertise to do much about it. This is where the FERSG has been playing a vital role.

Disseminating and acting on the latest sector research

Over the last year, and with a rolling programme of engagement at future events, members of FERSG have invested a lot of time in disseminating the latest [and occasionally as yet unpublished!] research at conferences and network events to ensure that those within the sector are kept informed and up to date about the latest figures and trends in further education. This has been coupled with the creation of an online resource base for providers and others with an interest in the sector to use to help with local marketing and communications activity.

Small steps perhaps, but if your reputation is defined not by what you say about yourself, but by the opinions of trusted others; then a start point has to be helping people know how to influence those opinions in a positive way.

In the busy melee of daily life it’s sometimes difficult to find where to go for answers. If it was to do with FE’s reputation I’d look at I also know between my principal and one of our motor vehicle apprentices, who I’d want to work on my car.

Robin Newton-Syms is a member of the FERSG and director of corporate strategy and planning at Preston College

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