From education to employment

Sudakshina Mukherjee on the CEL Talkback Phenomena

The three Talkback sessions, writes Sudakshina Mukherjee for FE News, had the following themes centred on the FE sector: “students and employers are at the centre of what we do”; “sustainable performance is being achieved through effective collaboration with partners” and “Our leaders are diverse, innovative and well-respected. There is a rich resource of leadership talent to sustain and enhance the sector contribution.”

Much debate and discussion was engaged in by all the conference attendees and FE News will bring you the points that came up shortly. After the discussion sessions, the main points were summarised, collated and presented by Libby Purves to a “Talkback” panel consisting of the key figures from the sector.

Key Figures

These representatives were Ray Dowd, Agenda for Change Champion for the Learning and Skills Council (LSC); Kat Fletcher, National President of the National Union of Students (NUS); John Hedger, Chair of Lifelong Learning UK (LLUK); Stephen Marston, Director General for Lifelong LSC at the Department for Education and Skills (DfES); Stella Mbubaegbu, Principal of Highbury College; Heather Rabbats from 4Learning; Chris Payne, Executive Director, Nottingham Training Network Ltd; Ruth Silver, Principal of Lewisham College, and Andrew Thomson, the Chief Executive of the newly formed Quality Improvement Agency (QIA).

When asked how learners could be encouraged to make more demands as customers, Kat Fletcher’s response was as follows: “Quite often students concentrate on conditions of toilets, or a piece of bureaucracy within a faculty. Where they have empowered learners, like [having] learner panels, it’s a positive change. If senior management puts measures into place, students will respond.” When asked whether increasing learner demands were good, Ruth Silver said: “A balance of trust and responsibility of learners” is required. Stella Mbubaegbu believes that “students included as a part of inspection teams is way of empowering them. Older students can make more demands, as they are more confident and know what they want.”

To this question, both Chris Payne and Heather Rabbats thought that small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) should have a role to play. Mr. Payne believes: “Employers want to know whether it would work in a business-solution way. SMEs need support for training and need to be engaged.” Ms. Rabbats reckons that the “diversity of employers are important. Lift aspirations for communities to develop. At the same time, you need to have tangible relationships with SMEs.”

Skills Gap

When the question of a skills gap existing between the FE sector and the workplace was posed, Steven Marston, DfES said: “14-19 year-olds and adults- that’s a skill gap that needs to be filled. What are those skills that make a difference to them? It is true that we have been around this track several times before, in terms of getting students qualifications that they really need for employment.” Ray Dowd of the LSC added to this by saying: “We would like to get in the future somewhere, where colleges become indispensable to meet employers” needs.”

In order to get to this stage, Ruth Silver says: “Its about making the colleges be there for the communities at all, different levels” and Stella Mbubaegbu points out that “it is about recognising what each employer and organisation requires from the college.” When asked what can be done in deprived areas to get local governors to engage more, Andrew Thomson informed the delegates that “colleges need to understand that representatives from the community need to be there to meet what the colleges require. We need to think about what the managers need to do.”

Ruth Silver added to this by saying that “wisdom, care and steering are relevant to bring about colleges to get what they require.” Kat Fletcher also took part in this discussion, adding that “governing boards are meant to embed the ethos of the college, but they are increasingly becoming bureaucracy-based and admin-based. It is no wonder why students do not want to participate in meetings.”

The final question posed to the panel was of what role competition, collaboration and partnerships have to play in the current scenario. Stephen Marston said that “competition has an important place, so that new providers can come into the system. Competition as a way of innovating the system.” Chris Payne added: “Collaboration is not the same as partnership. Collaboration means what are you bringing and that you need to give up something, in order to meet challenges.” In the meantime, Andrew Thomson stated that “the issue struck by this sector is by performing well for others, as well performing for themselves.”

The “Talkback” panel discussion was then concluded with a point made by Minister of State for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education, Bill Rammell MP, who said: “We must bring our next generation of leaders and succession should be a key part of our planning.”

Sudakshina Mukherjee

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