From education to employment

Implementing effective FE study programmes to – the key to success?

Ruth Gilbert is chief executive of the Career Colleges Trust

So the Ofsted inspection framework is changing again. To understand the changes in more detail, I recently met with group of FE Ofsted inspectors who were able to provide me with an overview as to what we should all expect.

The crux, it would seem, is that the new framework is based on an ‘assessment and progress over time’ of FE learners. This is to be evidenced via a number of elements including classroom practice (curriculum planning), the confidence and aspirations of learners (and how teachers support this), high standards (linked to expectations of staff/students) and of course, the destination outcomes of each learner.

Ultimately, this can be summarised as SAP – Standards, Assessment and Progress- being the keys to success.

So how does an FE College meet these goals for its learners? What practices should be in place to ensure that each and every student is not only being taught and assessed within the framework, but is achieving to their full potential?

Over the past few years, many colleges have introduced electronic individual learning plans and all have focused on setting targets for and with learners. However, it has been suggested by both BIS and Ofsted that some colleges have not yet fully embraced the concept of a ‘study programme’ – and as a result, are unable to effectively implement individualised learning plans, i.e. truly individual units, courses and plans for study by each learner.

This is not the case for all colleges by any means though. In fact, some have turned the study programme into a core selling point for their business. Take Bromley College for example, which has recently launched a scheme called the Bromley Advantage. Every student is part of this programme and it enables them to gain a variety of additional skills and work experience to support their qualification. This broad base of study and career-focused skills development helps to ensure that every young person will be better prepared for work and life after college.

There have been several reports publicised recently, which highlight the struggle that employers are having to recruit young people with the right mix of academic ability, vocational skills and life skills/experience. An FE College is in the position to ensure its students have the opportunity to acquire all these crucial skills, and Bromley’s scheme is an excellent example of a pioneering approach.

Digital literacy is a growing area and I feel passionately that young people need not only be proficient with their digital skills, but that they understand the importance of using social media and other digital channels responsibly. This is an important strand of a study programme for all young people and must be incorporated in the spirit of developing ‘good citizens’ who will contribute to both local life and the economy.

One of the barriers colleges face in terms of their support for young people is parental involvement. Study after study shows us that parents have the single biggest influence on the career pathway a young person chooses to take. This is followed by teachers and peers.

As highlighted above, destination outcomes is a crucial factor in the Ofsted framework, but how do colleges mitigate against the heavy influences (accepting of course that these can be positive) coming from a young person’s family?

The solution here is to ensure that parents are involved fully in the development of their children’s career plans. Masterclasses from experts, visits to industry premises and getting employers to talk to parents about the very real opportunities available in particular sector are all good ways to reach parents. There are so many careers out there which most people have never even heard of, let alone considered getting involved in – particularly within digital technology or construction for example.

Businesses need to be encouraged to target parents at bespoke industry events – introducing themselves as ‘training partners’ rather than simply setting up at a college recruitment event. This instantly sets aspirations, helps make parents and students aware of the exciting opportunities available, as well as making education relevant.

There is also the added difficulty of teachers being trained purely to teach and not necessarily as career coaches/advisors. The FE system has without doubt been based around vocational qualification delivery, but as Ofsted now recognises, this is only half the story. An effective, high quality study programme will now place the vocational qualification as 50% of the course, with maths, English, enrichment and meaningful work experience making up the other half.

I think Ofsted is making very positive steps in terms of encouraging FE Colleges to recognise the importance of a richer and more varied learning experience for learners. We help our Career Colleges to develop meaningful study programmes and ensure that Ofsted’s expectations are met, whilst preparing students fully for life after college. I look forward to seeing the full updated framework, when Ofsted published is later this month.

Ruth Gilbert is chief executive of the Career Colleges Trust

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