From education to employment

Looking Back on the Week that Was with FE News

Sunshine! Ah, finally, the sun is beating down mercilessly on the ground outside, and at long last it feels like the kind of weather one would expect to experience drought warnings in.

In the hopes that this will herald a summer of warm weather and sunshine, rather than the usual warm stifling weather and 80% cloud cover, I am avoiding doing a rain dance. I think I must be kicking my heels the wrong way in the fourth turn; oh well, live and learn. And after all, if we cannot learn from our experiences and improve ourselves through them, we must be pretty foolish. Wouldn”t you say?

Where Angels Fear to Tread”¦on Frosting”¦

A slice of the action? Or should we talk about having cake and eating it as well? Is the body of the cake all fluff and air, with very little substance? Is it coming out of the oven half baked? Is the cake failing to rise to the occasion? Is it ever possible to make a cake without breaking eggs ““ except when adding seventeen kilos of powdered goodness ““ knows ““ what to a bowl of water and hoping no ““ one will notice that you can”t actually bake.

The cry may have gone up: “Enough with the cake comments already!” Which, to be honest, would be an entirely fair comment, and entirely welcome ““ they were close to exhaustion anyway. But let us consider the cake in all its splendour. Look at its edges, the elegant icing on the top in the shape of a famous footballer or an angel (the two are not normally interchangeable), look at all the angles and details on the cake. Is there anything that the cake can represent?

The simple comparison might be found in the substance. A cake’s filling is very fluffy and pleasant to eat, but provides very little nourishment. It leaves you satisfied through an initial sugar rush whilst leaving you craving more. It fails to offer any of the vital minerals and vitamins, and is certainly off the menu should we wish to lose the Christmas spare tyre that obstinately hangs over the belt buckle and prevents us from making sure our shoe laces are actually tied; or in fact, if we are wearing shoes at all. In short, it looks good; it tastes fantastic; but offers little of substance, and may be bad for you in the long run, leaving you feeling bloated and faintly guilty.

Empty Calories

Not wishing to cast aspersions, of course, but the public perception of the FE sector, indeed of education as a whole, is that it represents “empty calories”; that it offers a great deal of pleasing rhetoric and a wonderful outer shell, but little else. How else can we explain the lack of regard for education in the broader media, in the broader public? It is also worth noting that our new Education Secretary has wasted little time in announcing his interest in another higher office should it become available, less than a month after moving to the Department for Education and Skills (DfES).

On the other hand, the FE sector is supposedly focussing with an almost “horse ““ in ““ blinkers ““ in ““ race ““ with ““ tiny ““ jockey ““ on ““ back ““ riding ““ them ““ faster” intensity on bringing people to employment, and on improving their skills set. Admittedly this was meant to be targeting the skills that the economy would need in 2020, and we won”t officially know what these skills are until the Leitch Review is released from intellectual captivity to roam the sunny uplands of public awareness; but this has not stopped any number of skills initiatives from putting countless hours into improving numeracy, literacy, ICT skills and so forth.

At present the vacancy that Alan Johnson MP could move on to is yet to be available, so much of the speculation on this is fruitless. However, should this come to pass and should Alan Johnson MP move on to some higher office, perhaps Further Education as a whole can take pride in this. After all, through interaction with the DfES, he would have improved his skills set to the point that he can move on to another office. He would therefore have fulfilled in his own life the mission of FE, to improve the competitive skills level of the worker in Britain.

Perhaps then, there might be a press release issued saying that his appointment to his new post was a testament to the strength and importance of the FE sector. It could be held up as a shining example of just how much FE has to offer. Instead of empty calories, then, FE represents the salad bar. Instead of chips, it represents the healthily prepared meal with steamed fish and vegetables. Instead of a burger dripping in fat, it represents a tofu ““ dog. Instead of a placebo, it represents the vitamin supplement for a healthy economy.

Of course, to lose another Education Secretary also indicates an issue with recruitment and retention”¦but that can be dealt with another time. More cake, anyone?

Jethro Marsh

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