Featured Voices

Eddie Playfair is a Senior Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges (AoC)

User Rating: 5 / 5

Star ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar Active

Another college is possible, and it should be founded on an agreed public purpose and shared values. While college cannot aspire to be utopia it can be a place where we imagine and discuss utopia, making new connections and expanding our reach and our ambition for ourselves and our world. Starting with the knowns we bring with us, the utopian imagination can help us to dismantle what is given and construct something better.

This is the sort of approach described by US educationalists David Tyack and Larry Cuban as ‘tinkering towards utopia’:

Utopian thinking can be dismissed as pie-in-the-sky or valued as visionary; tinkering can be condemned as mere incrementalism or praised as a common-sense remedy for everyday problems … We favour attempts to bring about such improvements by working from the inside out, especially by enlisting the support and skills of teachers as key actors in reform. (Tyack and Cuban, 1995: 1,10)

Rather than merely defending what we have, we need to imagine better colleges where communities can come together to work out, and try out, their own solutions. A place where students, teachers and others can meet and speak and work on terms of equality, democracy and mutual respect. As well as learning about the best that has been thought and said, our students need to acquire the skills to make their own judgements and join the human conversation as equals.

How should we conceive the curriculum for our better college?

It should have today’s and tomorrow’s challenges at its heart, starting from the pressing needs of our students and communities. It should be rooted in an understanding of the past as well as the present, and should equip young people with the analytical and practical tools they will need in the future. It should offer students more time to engage with human culture in greater depth and breadth. It should give them the opportunity to create a masterpiece, their best contribution so far, and to engage with others in the work of citizenship, community care and peace building.

Is this ‘such stuff as dreams are made on’? Absolutely. Is it impossible? Absolutely not.

Many of the elements of this better college exist within today’s colleges, in the moments when learning comes to life and things suddenly make sense, or when students start to apply what they’ve learnt unprompted, to shape their own activity and pursue new avenues independently, or when they initiate and engage in reading, research, social action, or campaigning for a purpose of their own choosing.

We need to nurture these opportunities and start building the college of the future around them, even if our current tools and resources are inadequate.

The Spanish poet Antonio Machado says: ‘there is no path, the path is made by walking’ (Machado, 1912). It is up to us to decide which direction to go in and to make our path the best we can.

The brave new world

We need to be brave enough to loosen our attachment to some of our certainties and ways of doing things, to question and be questioned and to face our own fears in order to be able to hope, dream, experiment and act. But all our bravery, questioning and imagination will be an ‘insubstantial pageant’ destined to ‘melt into air’ unless it has some tangible impact on the way we live and shape our world. We need to follow reflection with action, however limited.

Oscar Wilde wrote that ‘progress is the realisation of utopias’ and ‘a map of the world that does not include utopia is not worth even glancing at’ (Wilde, 2013: 34).

So, what practical tinkering can we engage in to help place our colleges in the same atlas as utopia, if not in utopia itself? On a large scale, political, systemic and institutional reform are certainly necessary. But change can also start on a small scale at the margins and move to the centre. What starts as prefigurative practice can end up at the heart of a college’s work.

Here are a few questions that any member of a college community could ask, as a starting point for developing what is on offer in their college:

  • How do we introduce our students to a wider range of cultural experiences so as to develop their cultural literacy and critical skills, through reading and discussion groups for example?
  • How do we develop a democratic, deliberative approach to educating about major global and local concerns, with students evaluating evidence, engaging in dialogue, learning to disagree and resolve conflict?
  • How do we promote student engagement and representation practices and structures and develop the leadership and advocacy skills to make them effective?
  • How do we create a coherent, engaging political literacy programme that teaches students about power, rights and values?
  • How do we support and value the production of student masterpieces, through research, performance, creative or community activity?

Students’ experience of college should help them reassess their values and the meaning of their lives. They should emerge both wiser and less convinced of their wisdom, aware of both their power and their responsibilities.

As well as preparing them for progression and work, we need to see them as citizens, creators and carers, skilled in the democratic habits of participation, representation, leadership and change-making.

Colleges can be where these habits are learned and practised. Because they reach into every community and meet such a broad range of educational needs, colleges are uniquely placed to help us to navigate the tempests we encounter, challenge the tyranny of ‘no alternatives’, engage with the not-yet-known, and become the ‘gorgeous palaces’ and ‘solemn temples’ that will help to shape the brave new world we know is possible.

Eddie Playfair is a Senior Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges (AoC)

Eddie Playfair has worked in education for 37 years, mostly in further education, and he was a college principal for 16 years. 

An extract from Caliban's Dance: FE after The Tempest, edited by Maire DaleyKevin Orr and Joel Petrie. Trentham Books, UCL IOE Press, 2020. Save 20% on the paperback with code FVCAL at UCL IOE Press


Machado, A. (1912) ‘Campos de Castilla’, ‘Proverbs’ and ‘Songs 29’, trans. Craige, B.J. In Selected poems of Antonio Machado (1979) Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.

Tyack D. and Cuban L. (1995) Tinkering Toward Utopia: A century of public school reform. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wilde, O. (2013; original publication 1891) De Profundis and Other Prison Writings. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Sponsored Video


Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Newsroom Activity

Educating yourself in Prison: an inside job

Educating yourself in Prison: an inside job

FE News: The Future of Education News Channel had a status update on Twitter 2 days ago

RT @NCFE: ‘For as long as humans have worked, and whatever industry they may have worked in, success has always been predicated on having t…
View Original Tweet

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.


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.


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