From education to employment

Pauline Odulinksi, Principal of Aylesbury College, continues the

I think this is a very important debate and I fully support the need to emphasise vocational skills. What we have been about in further education for a long time is really trying to focus on how important the vocational skills are. Certainly, operating in a county like Buckinghamshire where all the schools have a 6th form, it is still selective education.

What we do in the college is to provide that other route. We have a very productive network of partnerships with place in the college and in schools where young people can come on the increased flexibility projects from 14 and do a day release in the vocational work. What we do is to try and focus on the things we do well, and let schools do the things they do well.

They do the academics well, I think we do the vocational element well. It is really about making sure that the organisations we are focusing on are fit for what it is they are trying to deliver. I personally think there should be clear distinction between schools sticking to vocational training, and colleges in specialist areas they are good at. We appoint people with relevant skills and qualifications coming from industry.

A personal worry at the moment is that we are trying to make each do both. So there is an emphasis on schools with the new diplomas, and maybe then a tendency to do more vocational work. My question would be, is that the right way forward? Do we stick to the things we know we can do well, and putting the resources there rather than duplicating it?

[In Aylesbury] we have just moved into a brand new building and we are in state of the art new college ““ the whole campus is being redeveloped. Our students actually recognise coming into and working in a first class environment which is very modern, with up-to-date equipment. Therefore the whole entity is preparing them for work. Or in the case of older students, in moving them along in their career path in whatever way is appropriate.

[The students] are very much of the view that the college is the place for vocational learning, and school is the place for academic learning.

[At our college] we have designed the new building with vocation in mind ““ the entire ground floor is in a “mall” style with a hair and beauty salon, travel bureau, floristry and restaurant. All of these are operating as commercial enterprises with the public being able to enter the building and use the facilities.

I think there is a general moving in FE to make themselves much more like a commercial organisation. Personally, I think that is good. I think we should be doing that.

We have just launched a corporate membership scheme. What we”re doing is asking local employers to pay an annual subscription fee to the college, and for that fee, they become a member. That gives them a whole host of benefits; their staff can access the gym, they can use the restaurant, they can hold business meetings there. At the same time, we can be very closely involved and ask them: What they are short of? Where do we need to put the emphasis? What do we need to do next?

It is another way in which we can meet their needs.

Pauline Odulinski, Principal, Aylesbury College.

Next week: The Association of South East Colleges concludes FE News” vocational/academic skills debate

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