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One-day conference sees students debate future of learner voice in FE

Student leaders from across the country attended a one-day conference last week to debate the issues surrounding learner representation.

The Centre for Excellence in Leadership (CEL) organised and hosted the conference, the first of its kind, to allow students to voice their opinions and concerns over the inclusion of learners in further education policy-making.

Keynote speakers included Ellie Russell, Vice President of Further Education at the National Union of Students (NUS). She said: “People always say that students are apathetic because we all sit around and complain about things we don”t know how to change. But it’s not true- we all sit about discussing our tutors, the facilities, the surroundings”.

“That’s not apathy, that’s anger”.

Addressing the notion that students are not “customers”, she explained: “Being a customer means that if you don”t like your service you can go somewhere else. But it’s not like that in education. You”re not customers in education because the stakes are too high; if it goes wrong for us that’s a year out of our lives”.

She added: “Today will only work if you listen to the policy and knowledge you are going to be given and make sure that you use every and any opportunity to question, stick your hand up, butt in, debate and challenge what you hear on behalf of every learner that you represent, because as learners we are not customers, we are co-producers”.

John Hayes MP, Conservative Shadow Minister for Vocational Education, was also present, noting the governments successive “failures”: “Britain lacks an effective focus on intermediate skills. Very little of the purported spend on training is actually spent on intermediate skills and the public money that is spent on these skills is often ineffective”.

Further: “Employers are focusing their training on higher level skills and on compensating for failures elsewhere in the system (i.e. remedial training). FE is constrained by bureaucracy: FE colleges are hugely over-regulated, further diminishing the effectiveness of intermediate training”.

“We must empower learners”.

“We must develop a system that is driven by the choices of learners and the economic needs of business. We must address the missed opportunity in the FE bill to give colleges the freedom necessary to innovate and excel; to meet the needs of business and learners”.

Lynne Sedgmore, Chief Executive of the CEL, added: “I am thinking of you, our learners here today. And I am thinking that every one of them – and all their co-learners in all their glorious diversity – has every right to expect the leadership which all their daily efforts and all their lavish dreams deserve. I”m talking about your leadership”.

“You are the leaders we need today to take us into a better future”.

For more information, click here.

Vijay Pattni.

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