From education to employment

Ellie Russell Cries Out for Students Views to be Heard at Conference

Get ready to scream out in high anarchy, writes Vijay Pattni for FE News, because the following article contains brand new, revolutionary and downright salacious material designed primarily for one purpose.

Here at FE News, we”re going right back to school (or should that be college?) and we”re apparently taking FE with us. We are proposing something new to make it’s entrance into the history of this website, of this industry and of this country. That’s right, what is below is an account of the second half of the second day during the recent Association of Learning Providers (ALP) annual conference, held at Stansted. The “graveyard shift,” as it was described, held some major significance.

The Power of Positive Speaking

But wait. What’s this in our midst? The machinery is up and running. Hands are poised to type. The onset of cold turkey is churning. As though reeling from the admission that our beloved sector is suffering with a form of “skills” and “globalisation” turrets syndrome, Ellie Russell took it upon herself to relieve the world of such tired routines and inject some enthusiasm and honest, intelligent debate. Yes, sorry folks, but in this article, that’s what you”ll find!

In this vein of spiritual enlightenment, the epiphany began in earnest as Ellie put the much reduced final day audience on the spot with her passionate presentation. “Do my views matter?” she questioned, prompting the audience to sit back and take stock. Yes, the lady is not for turning. “Am I a novelty? The reality is, the factors that determine the learning experience is a collective decision making process and learners themselves should form part of that process,” continued Ellie, staking her constituents” claims in the hierarchy of further education planning. “It’s what being a member of a community is all about.”

Indeed. The frank testimony continued, somewhat refreshingly, as she addressed the gathered delegates directly: “Students are just as committed as you are. You”d be forgiven for thinking learners are blank sheets. We need to be actively engaged in the design, delivery and monitoring of programmes, not just marketing them.” Using a somewhat disreputable fast food chain to reload her guns, she said: “If you want to eat then you can go to McDonalds but it’s not necessarily good for you, even if you are satisfied.”

Fast Enough Food?

Addressing the current situation, she said: “Clearly, there is a policy drive to move from provider self-assessment to a more mature self-regulation. This is a powerful tool for ongoing self-improvement. Providers should look outwards as well as inwards, thus providing an effective and reliable system”. But drawing another parallel with a colossus of the supermarket world, she made a good case: “There are lessons to be learnt. Modern businesses understand the value of what customers think. Some of my friends definitely think that Tesco is more reflective than most colleges. The principle should be, “We want; you want; they want, a better learning provision”.”

Her articulate yet humanely passionate argument even managed to include a nod to the current Blair administration. Supporters do still exist, it seems; and if they were all as vocal and honest as Ms. Russell, we”d perhaps be in a different predicament. But the message was clear: “I am pleased with the swift progress that has been made in developing national learner panels. And we are pleased as punch with the Further Education White Paper recommendations. There is a big focus on adult learning, which Sir Foster identified. This government in opposition defended student representation and we are glad it’s finally coming about now they”re in power.”

And for her final act, she pulled out the canons: “Cynics may see the relentless focus on learner representation as another box to tick. But it must and it can be more than that. It transforms lives, like mine, when at its best. It also builds a culture of self-improvement. It strikes at the very heart of what we do: transforming lives.”

Questions, Anyone?

Perhaps some of the departed delegates would have responded differently to those who sat there, truly challenged by might of her zest and intellect. But the questions still came. “Do you have any bright ideas to involve learners fully? How do we best listen to them if they are geographically spread out?” asked one, clearly savouring the opportunity to ask before others. “It is easy if you have the systems in place”, batted Ms Russell, clearly unimpeded by the modern constraints of ridiculous red tape and administration.

Driving straight to the point, Ellie said: “One of the challenges the NUS is looking into, is the dissemination of the sector. It must come from the students themselves. Perhaps have a learning representative who convenes every couple of months to deliver student opinions to providers and colleges.” Moving in for the knockout, she said: “When you have learner representatives on panels, you build up effectiveness and confidence.”

Turning to the historically sensitive subject of qualifications, she was just as lucid: “We need to change the perception of vocational qualifications from “something you do when you can”t do A-Levels”.” All in all, a spirited performance, capped with a humbling finale. “Like you, we want excellence.”

Vijay Pattni

Stay at From the FE Trenches to hear what the monkey says!

Related Articles