Articles from Nick Isles

A New Industrial Strategy Needs New Leadership

The long awaited Industrial Strategy White Paper has finally been published. And it makes good reading. There is a strong emphasis on backing winning sectors with winning general purpose technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning and green energy. And there is a renewed focus on people and skills, re-announcing the Government’s commitment to building a world class technical education sector through better, more employer relevant curricula; an expansion of quality and higher level apprenticeships and a new National Retraining scheme for digital luddites like me already in the workplace. And of course a focus on maths and STEM with a large(ish) £400 million set aside for this work.

What do the Pisa results mean?

Every three years Dr Andreas Schleicher of the organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reveals the results of tests on 15 year-olds from across the globe in English, maths and Science. These results are known by the acronym PISA. From them the OECD can create a league table of achievement by country – a ranking if you will of how the education systems of the participating countries are doing when compared against each other. 

What does FE need for Christmas?

I am sitting writing this blog from the AoC annual conference surrounded by college Principals, their number 2s and 3s and the consultants who offer them services – services they need and some they’d like. Indeed it is the services that many Principals would like to have that might effect the greatest improvements that they no longer have the funds for. Things like additional support for teaching practice. Development funding to improve the quality of their managers and leaders; support to improve their brokerage services to employers and perhaps most notable ways to help improve the parlous state of English and maths results (grade A* to C) in their institutions. For maths and English are fast becoming the straw that broke the camel’s back. Several colleges I know have had simply disastrous English and maths results with some with pass rates in single digits.

New Government, new future for FE?

After the Referendum

So it has happened. The atavists have won. Leave managed to encourage enough of the disempowered in the cities and the viscerally conservative shire English to come out and vote to leave the European Union. The repercussions have been immediate and could be more profound than any of us quite realise. A Prime Minister has already resigned. Scotland may secede from the union. The North and South of Ireland could reunite. And in every corner of the land shell shocked people under the age of 40 are asking themselves ‘why have our parents and grandparents done this to us?’

Why the FE community should be campaigning to remain part of the EU

The EU referendum is on 23 June and the campaign is in full swing. Without doubt this is an important vote. The ‘leave’ camp believe that the uncertainty an exit would engender in the business community and elsewhere will be negligible and short lived. Their case is that returning areas of sovereignty and repatriating cash we give to the EU will help make Britain richer, more secure and more influential. The ‘remain’ camp argue the opposite. To back up their arguments both sides drench the public with a blizzard of data. Economists and business leaders write letters to the broadsheets backing one side or the other. The ‘truth’ is hard to glean. And I believe that is because there is no absolute truth in this debate merely argument.

What happens after an area review has been and gone?

The Budget has been and gone and the outcome was relatively benign for FE compared with previous such announcements. The stage has been set. Local area reviews will pump prime more efficiency and greater effectiveness by merging failing institutions with stronger ones. The productivity agenda will be satisfied with the creation of more technical institutions that meet local market need for skills more accurately; and by new National Colleges. Competition for students will be bolstered by the academisation of more schools; new specialist technical institutes and the resurgence of apprenticeships as a valuable route to career success, aided and abetted by the introduction of the new levy (tax) on larger employers. It does feel like a coherent agenda but there are some large missings from it. And perhaps the largest missing is a clear description of FE’s new purpose without which it will be difficult to raise the motivation of a depressed workforce.

Northern Powerhouse – guiding light for area reviews or a damp squib?

So the government have announced a loan facility for colleges going through a post area review restructure. The days when government issued grants seems to be coming to an end not just for FE but in other areas of public spending too. Under investment in public goods has been a hallmark of Conservative administrations since the days of Margaret Thatcher. 

What should be the skills agenda for 2016?

Now that 2016 is well and truly underway what's this year's agenda? The CSR was not as bad a story as some had feared and the FE sector has a degree of certainty over the next five years vis-à-vis funding. It's not unalloyed joy but nor is it the woe and misery that had been feared. As a minimum, certainty over likely revenue per student should enable better planning and prioritising. The additional potential funding available via loans for 19 plus learning at level 3 and above, and via the apprenticeship levy on larger companies, could mean real revenue growth. But how to manage such growth and who will benefit from it most remain largely unanswered questions.

Rehabilitating offenders is what FE does well

The Lord Chancellor emerged from his period of reading into his brief earlier this month. The Lord Chancellor being Michael Gove expectations were set high. As Education Secretary he had taken on what he described as 'the blob', the teaching establishment in other words. Not surprisingly 'the blob' did not like it and fought back. As Education Secretary he oversaw probably the most energetic creation of new institutions the sector has seen. His commitment to new institution building was quite heroic. Free schools have sprung up in all sorts of places (not necessarily where the need for them is highest). So too University Technical Colleges (UTCs) and the Academies programme is now established as the way for schools to go.