From education to employment

Looking Back on the Week that Was with FE News

Regular readers of FE News will be all too aware that conferences are quite similar to emails from friends; there is an extended barren spell immediately followed by a glut of messages.

The question, as ever, is what the messages are. Holding a conference is all very well, and obviously plays an important role in the various agenda of agencies and interested parties. The chance to gather together with peers and enjoy a glass of something or another whilst discussing the road ahead for education and development is gratefully accepted, as is the chance to gain an insight into the thinking of those involved with the development and implementation of policy. Who could argue with that?

The Chirpy Face of Change

Besides, that is, an extremely argumentative person. A conference is a means to an end, a way of encouraging the sharing of best practices across the sector. In the week that has just passed, for instance, the Securities and Investments Institute (SII) gathered a host of leading figures from across the financial sector to discuss the tasks that lie ahead in the bid to keep Britain at a competitive level One notable comment came from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), who demystified the overgeneralisations that surround the knee ““ jerk reaction to China’s growth.

Looking at this matter, one is instantly forced to gasp in amazement (possibly choking on a salted peanut, should you be enjoying that particular delicacy) that the UK enjoys such a strong economic position given the comparative paucity of material goods provided or produced in Britain. That gasp turns into a fully fledged purple faced rolling on the ground looking-for-a-Heimlich episode when bearing in mind the extremely poor position that the UK enjoys in the international education league tables. If Britain were truly concerned with staying strong, then this would be addressed even ahead of gas purchase agreements. Dare one say, it might even be higher on the agenda than John Prescott’s pay?

But the week ahead promises to provide two further conferences for the British public. The first, on Monday, sees the Centre for Excellence in Leadership (CEL) hosting a summit on the future requirements on leaders in the FE sector ““ a subject that will be returned to shortly. Then, on Wednesday and Thursday the 17th and 18th of May, various sector stakeholders will converge on Stanstead like a flock of aeroplane enthusiasts without the desire for plane ““ gazing to attend the Association of Learning Providers (ALP) “Partners in Learning” conference. With the Government’s avowed desire to bring private investors and interests into the FE sector, conferences involving people in FE engaged in just such employer ““ facing practices will only become more important.

The Leaders?

However useful all of these conferences are, and however enjoyable consuming copious quantities of coffee whilst trying to pull one’s shirt collar a little further away from one’s neck to avoid suffocation may be, it raises a vital question that is more complex than ever. The Government seem to be indicating that the FE sector is for the economy, an ill ““ defined amorphous mass that could mean any number of things. But who exactly is the FE sector for?

Before anything else, the sector is educational – the word “education” is standing in plain sight for all the world to appreciate, right there in the title “Further Education”. According to the Oxford Dictionary, to educate means “to teach somebody over a period of time”, and education is “a process of training and education”. As such, it has to be focussed on the people taking part in education. Having said which, why do we not ask those people for advice in education? In areas of innovation, for instance; or to better understand what drives a young person to gain education, or to embark on a project of any kind.

As useful as a conference is, without considering the advice and concerns of those people actually engaged in education any conclusions have to be suspect, and the consequent policy decisions very one ““ sided. Like emails from friends who have not been in contact for some time, these policies would be at least partially self ““ serving.

Jethro Marsh

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