Against a backdrop of daily information about the crisis in our education system, and with recent figures suggesting FE colleges are short of approximately 20,000 staff, it is more important than ever to find innovative ways to resolve this issue.
Much has been written about the predicament that exists across our education landscape, with schools, colleges, and training providers suffering from a shortage of high-quality teaching staff; with funding tight and unlikely to loosen at any time soon, how can we make teaching, and specifically teaching in FE an attractive proposition?
Maybe, just maybe, Further Pathways to FE has some of the answers. It is proving at the very least to offer a solution that has already resulted in positive outcomes in terms of attracting talent into the sector.
Too good to be true? Read on!
The programmes aim was to raise the profile of teaching within the student population, by offering 120 final year university students (or those studying for a post graduate qualification) a 40 hour work placement within a Further Education setting.
The placements were available across the following six key locations and their surrounding areas:
So far, the FP2FE programme has been a resounding success, with overwhelmingly positive feedback from providers and students, to such an extent that the programme has been extended to Leeds and Newcastle.
Cognition is now in the process of placing another 100+ university students with providers in these eight key locations in the first term of the 2018/19 academic year.
We already know, that the programme has had tangible impact, with some students being offered trainee teaching posts, and/or offered places on Teacher Training programmes including PGCEs, post placement.
We will have more to tell about this following the destinations survey which will be conducted in October, however, as I have had the great privilege of leading on this programme, I have spent some time recently reflecting on why the FP2FE programme appears to be such a success, particularly at a time when the shortage of teachers in FE (and indeed the whole education sector) is one of, if not the single most pressing issue that needs addressing.
So how does the FP2FE programme work and what is the essence of its success?
I have attempted to answer these questions below.
The FP2FE programme works by targeting students across all academic areas who are either in the final year of their degree or studying for a post-graduate qualification, as this is when they are at a point when they will be close to making career choices and exploring what might be possible.
They are then matched to a provider, based on their geographic location, following which they complete a 40 hour placement which gives them a holistic, but realistic experience of what working and specifically teaching in FE looks and feels like.
A small bursary payment is made to providers (per student they place) and students for taking part in the programme.
This may seem like simplicity itself, and in many ways, I would agree that this is one of the elements of why the programme has been such a success.
The most challenging of problems do not always require the most elaborate of solutions, but simply the most effective; and sometimes these are also the most straightforward, such as FP2FE.
That said, from a project management perspective, there has been a relentless focus on engagement, communication, sharing information, and supporting (particularly students) through the process; an approach which has been both necessary and very worthwhile as it has paid dividends and helped ensure successful outcomes.
However, this programme is also successful because a number of essential key ingredients come together to create a perfect mix, and these include:
- Enlisting the support of the Universities in promoting the programme to final year undergraduates/ post graduates;
- Engaging with students at the right point in time, when they are actively thinking about available career choices and are open to exploring different options;
- Ensuring that the programme is offered to students across all academic disciplines, thereby encouraging students who may never have thought of teaching as an option, and consequently opening up the pool of potential talent across the undergraduate and post-graduate population;
- Ensuring that students are well informed about the programme, are well briefed beforehand on FE, and informed about what they might expect from taking part in the FP2FE programme; and
- Placing students with providers who have offered an all-embracing introduction to the FE sector.
Breath of fresh air for providers
At this point I need to say that without the providers the programme could not happen, and it is without doubt down to their commitment, hard work and support that the programme has enjoyed the success it has to date.
I can honestly say, as someone who has long championed the FE sector, and worked both with and for providers, I never fail to be impressed by the dedication and hard work of the staff who continue to work tirelessly for the sector and the learners they serve.
It has been hugely personally rewarding for me to lead on this programme which the sector sees as adding value, and as commented by one provider, as enabling ‘a meaningful experience for graduates and a real opportunity to showcase the reality of working in FE.’
At a time when the sector is facing unprecedented turbulence, FP2FE has defied the odds and is not only bringing a breath of fresh air to providers through access to this group of young talented individuals, but it is also creating a buzz within the graduate population and firmly placing the FE sector on the map as a career choice for students, many of whom had never before considered a career in teaching.
As one student commented: "This work placement was fantastic. It really changed my view of teaching. I was inspired by the teachers in the college and became more passionate about teaching".
I have always firmly believed that there is no better PR than word of mouth, and it is not possible to place a value on the potential power that igniting this sense of interest amongst this population could have.
This programme is in effect allowing students to gain a positive experience of being in an educational environment, when, as another student put it "I think this is an excellent program as there aren't many opportunities to experience teaching."
As I begin to go through the process of re-engaging with providers for phase two, it is becoming more apparent just how positive an impact the programme has already had.
One provider informed me that they are keeping in touch with all seven students placed with them as they have ‘no doubt’ that at least a couple of these will return to the college to take up positions with them.
In their words, the programme has created an interest; the outcome may not always materialise immediately, but there will be an outcome, albeit just a little bit later.
This is an important element of the FP2FE; as we sow the seeds, we will reap some of the rewards now, but some will undoubtedly be reaped in the future, when students have satisfied their wish to complete post-graduate study, and maybe work elsewhere for a period time.
Another provider Newham College, had a very positive experience of the programme and are looking forward to participating again, offering six placements to students.
David Malachi, Curriculum Director and Head of Newham College University Centre, who oversaw the programme on behalf of Newham College commented "I was astounded at the calibre of the placement students. We provided a carousel of activities ranging from teaching within our University Centre, which included working alongside our talented students within our provision for students with disabilities and high needs, Level 3 intensive provision, and student support. The standard of their inquiry was impressive and the placement students demonstrated that they have clear potential to be impactful, outstanding future teachers."
Two out of three students placed decided to undertake Postgraduate study ahead of entering the profession.
As the saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and just about every single provider (in fact all bar one) who participated in the programme last term, are eager to be involved again.
Finally, I will round this up by leaving you with one statistic we have from the first phase of the programme.
85% of participants stated that, following the completion of their placement, they would consider teaching in a college or FE provider (an increase from 44% prior to the placement), with students also indicating a significant increase in their knowledge of FE post placement.
Applying this to the population of 139 students, this results in 118 students who would now consider a career in teaching in FE.
I will report further following the destinations survey next month, and again when we have completed the next phase of the programme.
At these points we should be able to provide more evidence of success, for both FE and to some extent the schools sector, as evidence so far suggests, that some of the students placed in FE have also, unsurprisingly, gone on to train to become school teachers (as with all programmes of this nature, it is inevitable that some cross fertilisation over the educational landscape will take place, all of which is to be welcomed).
Julia Richards is Cognition Education Commercial Director EMEA, and is Programme Lead the Further Pathways to FE programme.