From education to employment

What might educating for the future look like?

Education is quite different now compared with back in 2014. Like most public spaces, the college building is more like a community hub. A multi-functional space integrating various elements of life: food growing, energy generation, wildlife habitat, a community meeting area with learning spaces, libraries, and offices for social innovators and social enterprises. This is where education is based.

The same goes for the elder hubs, which used to be called nursing homes. Elders’ care plans give people the opportunity to remain active as long as their health permits.

Community integration brings old and young old together through learning. Colleges now run many of their courses in the elder hubs including hairdressing and beauty, catering and hospitality, social care, horticulture/permaculture, art, carpentry, plumbing, electrical engineering as well as sports and leisure. The horticulture students use permaculture principles to grow food organically. In addition to their horticulture course core work, they also volunteer to look after the crops together with elders who are keen gardeners.

No knowledge is lost or wasted. Food not used on site is sold to the wider community. The catering students develop their skills, learning to cook on site. They prepare food from the local regions, in season, and cater for the different dietary requirements that the elders have.

Food composting is a matter of course. Many of the catering students also volunteer in the market garden. The curriculum is course specific, but with elements of interdisciplinary learning, recognising that nothing is standalone. Students’ are learning about other disciplines and how they are connected, recognising these relationships as vital for an effective and healthy community. Students need to work in teams – with others on their course, with other students, and across generations, to achieve the best possible results for everyone involved.

On the college site a veg box scheme is being operated as a social enterprise, which is an interdisciplinary programme bringing together horticulture, business and animal husbandry. The social enterprise also attracts business sponsorship. These relationships are now governed by the guidelines of the Economy for the Common Good to ensure that responsible practice is maintained throughout ethical procurement, ethical financial management, contribution to the local community, the sustainability of goods and services as well as the level of organisational democracy.

As a leader for responsible practice, and well respected in the local economy and community, the college and all its social enterprises have signed up to the Economy for the Common Good to ensure that they only work with organisations that share their values.

The veg box scheme is for the local community and is self-financing. The sponsorship is used to send a group of 10 students to Cameroon to support the Ndanifor Youth Workcamps. The students get to know a different culture, gain work experience, learn about local problems caused by climate change, deepen their understanding of permaculture, learn about different development models and, in turn, they bring their labour as well as the competences of running an interdisciplinary social enterprise based on strong values.

The college has as its priority the aim to educate the whole person – head, heart and hands. Ofsted are still about but, since colleges maintain s focus on making learning interesting, motivating students, bringing real life problems to them (or rather bringing them to real life problems), and treating learners in a democratic way, the requirements for Ofsted are met. Rather than concentrating on the outcomes and the statistics, the whole fear culture has evaporated. Statistics remain important for inspection, but are no longer the focus of every meeting.

Of course there are still colleges that are still working in the way they used to in 2014, but, interestingly, those that have refocused on the whole learner are achieving Outstanding in Ofsted. Evidently something is going right.

For those who are in the new way of doing things, organisational culture is so different to before. Tutors and managers talk regularly about learning, teaching, democracy, big issues, visions for a better future and how students are such an important part in solving the problems we face as a society. Most mission statements and strategic plans in the sector have moved away from focusing on previously limiting priorities of employability skills, and instead prioritise educating for the future, a broader scope than the government’s own agenda. Colleges are really leading the way, and the government is just starting to grasp that there is a lot of support in the electorate for it. The Prime Minister has even mentioned education for the future a few times.

A large group of colleges formed the Dolphin Group of Colleges. The group works collaboratively to make intelligent choices in the interest of young people’s future. The group focuses on quality improvement in a way that has been truly transformational. They meet quality with creativity. Group members regularly visit classes and have really deep conversations about lessons, which they have stopped grading. Support has been given to teaching staff, and tutors have developed self-reflective skills.

Tutors meet with peers at regular intervals to talk about their practice, their experiments, and their learning. They discuss what they have changed as a consequence of their learning and what they are still struggling with. Through co-learning, their colleagues ask them questions to help each other develop, in the interest of students. Some of these groups invite students into the discussions and have found this brings wonderful insights to the meetings. Lessons have become so inspirational, since the grading pressure is off and the focus has been switched to professional dialogue.

Through the results of experimentation resulting in better student outcomes, tutors have had timetables lightened from 24 to 21 hours. This has resulted in higher retention of students, which works out well for them and increases the funding income for colleges. Tutors now have time to think and plan their lessons more creatively. They integrate a wide range of competences, ethics, values, critical thinking, and a systems perspective as standard on all courses.

We aren’t saying we have the right solution yet. This is part of the new philosophy – we are open to trying things out, seeing what works, and what doesn’t. The culture is very supportive to take this approach of continual learning and discovery. For us as educators, for our learners, and for our communities.

Andrea Gewessler (pictured) runs Change that Matters, an independent company working with organisations and communities to bring about transformational change through dialogue, collaboration and innovation, and is particularly active in the sustainability field. Andrea and Kirsti Norris, from Action for Sustainability, active in very similar fields, co-wrote a research report on Embedding Sustainability into teaching, learning and the curriculum on behalf of LSIS in 2013

(Photograph credit: Seamus Ryan)

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