From education to employment

South East College Body Compares British Success with European Counterparts

The media does find it easier to criticise than to praise. A newspaper, a television show, an online publication ““ all would find it far easier to gain editorial and public attention with a headline of “Government Makes Mistake” than “Government Doing A ““ OK”.

The task of the media is not only to bring the bad news to the masses, however. The difficult balancing act that lies behind providing an objective and balanced assessment of the section of the news that may be being addressed is rarely considered in public, and it can appear that this hardly raises a murmur in the consciousness of the media itself. The Association of South East Colleges (AOSEC), through spokesperson Alan Corbett, have taken the time to point to the relative achievements of the FE system in the UK.

Changing Media Behaviour?

Mr. Corbett paints a measured, if bleak, picture of the performance of the British media with respect to the image of FE. He says: “The UK media ““ an institution to be admired in most respects ““ is unfortunately prone to being less than balanced when it comes to FE. Strikes, failing colleges, we all know the script.” He does admit that change has taken place, noting: “Admittedly, there are encouraging signs of a change of attitude in certain areas. Local BBC TV and radio in South East England are to be complimented on having the courage to stop focussing on the bad parts and, instead, celebrate all that’s good in FE. Likewise, many local newspapers and publications.”

He does comment, however, on the need to be aware of British FE’s success when compared with some international partners. He states: “However, one aspect that even the more reasonable journalists have seemingly failed to report is just how good British education, especially the FE sector, performs compared to our European counterparts. Take Germany. Despite a dreadful five million unemployed, especially youngsters, German industry is unable to fill 12% of training places because the education system has not adequately prepared the students for work.”

Throughout Europe”¦

He goes on to say that the problem stretches across Europe, saying: “Throughout Europe youngsters entering the workplace face a grim future and many, especially Poles, have no choice but to come to the UK and undertake unskilled jobs at low pay. The reasons for such mass unemployment and lack of opportunities are many and varied, but an education system that trains so many, yet where so few achieve skilled work, must surely be open to the charge of providing a less than perfect service to its people. Thus, by comparison, the UK should be proud of achieving so much for so many, but this makes for unexciting journalism so rarely gets reported.”

He concludes: “Let us celebrate the FE Sector, marvel at the successes and maybe acknowledge that our world is predominantly one of positive contribution to society. Let us move on from headline-grabbing stuff ““ strikes, failing colleges etc – which is unrepresentative of the bigger picture. In truth the British FE Sector (is) the model for many other nations to follow.”

What Mr. Corbett says is indeed true; the FE sector does contain much that is praiseworthy, with rising success rates, rising levels of completion, more young people in learning, more adults gaining Basic Skills and Level 2 qualifications that previous educational experiences had not given them. Within the remit of the AOSEC in particular, the language skills gap and the relative neglect of language skills is being actively and effectively countered through numerous programmes, and the AOSEC deserve particular praise for their hard work in this.

However, when presenting the success of the system, it must also be tempered with the problems that remain. Although AOSEC are working hard to make language skills central to their work and to improve the linguistic skills of their region, employers still complain of a lack of language skills in the workforce. The performance of UK FE when compared with the picture painted of Germany is indeed positive; however, according to OECD tables Britain still lags far behind in the numbers of young people participating in education amongst other levels.

The media should be positive when the news is positive. However, the balancing act between being positive and not reporting what remains to be addressed is never ending.

Jethro Marsh

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