From education to employment

Sandra Harding-Deans, Chief Executive of the Association of South East Colleges

It is very hard to disagree with what the other principals in the south east have said. What strikes me about it though, is that it is a shame we are rehearsing what we said a very long time ago ““ what worries me is how we have taken that debate forward. For as long as I have been working in the sector, we have been talking about how to get beyond this.

Some of these things around the specialised diplomas might be a start, along with the 14-19 network. But there is still an awful lot to persuade the general public perception out there. Once you talk to people like the colleges, they will say: “We”ve got beyond that”. We have to think of the best way in getting that message across. Perception; the reputation in the outside world is probably causing some of the difficulties. It would be nice, in a way, if we could stop talking about it.

If every time somebody talks about a divide, we could enforce the reality ““ whatever vocational training you do there is always some complementary or supporting work which might technically have an academic title, and vice versa.

Somehow, we need to get more of a blur between the two. There is blurring happening all over the place and we just need to shout about it a lot more. It is about learners wherever they come from; whatever routes we get access to. It doesn”t matter if it is through schools, the 14-19 partnership, from an employer, or whether it is an adult walking in from the community. If we can get the colleges, the employers, the learners and the awarding bodies ““ if they are keeping very rigid and tied to one route or another and don”t open it up, then it becomes difficult ““ together. I think it is a combination of all of those.

Does that sound like nirvana?

I think we are getting there. Every time you see a 14-19 partnership, it helps to blur it. When you respond to a need of an employer it is not just churning out a qualification for them. In doing some bespoke programmes that will have a mixture in them, you have to label them vocational or academic. That is there all the time ““ colleges are used to doing these kind of programmes.

Part of this is reputation management. Off the top of your head, you mention schools and sixth forms, and automatically there is a better perception of what they might do and how successful they are. I think colleges are becoming increasingly adept at getting on top of this reputation management issue, of doing a bit more to sell their own brand. And part of that branding is doing what you do best.

The more we can get that into the public arena about how successful some of these routes are, we can start to get on a more even platform with some of the more traditional academic routes.

One of the ways we can do it, to try and get more people applauding what FE does, is getting our message across to MP’s a bit better. I think the colleges are very good at building up relationships with their direct, local MP’s, and they in turn often know a huge amount about what goes on in their local colleges, so there is a very strong relationship there. And a very strong selling of their message.

What we are trying to do in AoSEC ““ we”re working with 40 or so colleges and principals ““ is a series of “parliamentary dinners”. We get a group of MP’s together with a group of colleges from the area, and really wow them with what we do.

Sandra Harding-Deans, Chief Executive, Association of South East Colleges.

Re-read the entire debate exclusively on FE News:

Monday 25th September: Matt Atkinson, Principal, Cricklade College

Tuesday 26th September: Claire Parry, Head of Partnerships and Employer Relations, Sussex Downs College

Wednesday 27th September: Sue Buss, Principal, Thanet College

Thursday 28th September: Chris Thomson, Principal, Brighton, Hove and Sussex 6th Form

Friday 29th September: Pauline Odulinski, Principal, Aylesbury College

Related Articles