From education to employment

The FE Collective was born – now let’s make a difference!

Danielle Watters, Debbie Hughes, Gavin O'Meara, Holly Wheaton, Alex Anderson and Finley Vile

What an inspirational day! It began with an idea (thanks, Gavin), that gained traction when shared with friends and colleagues. And now here we were, in Birmingham, in person, for the very first FE Collective. Except this was more than simply an event. It felt like this was the beginning of something much more important than that.

As the day unfolded at The Studio, in the main hall and then into the workshop rooms and networking areas, the consensus among attendees was clear; that bringing together those with influence in further education, who care deeply about it and its future, and turning dialogue into action, is how we shift the dial. Those fresh conversations, ignited by our scene-setters in the morning, taken on by our panellists, engaged with by attendees on the mic and on Slido, sparked ideas and lit up common ground. Leaders, practitioners and supporters were tackling the big issues facing the sector, together.

Artificial intelligence is here to stay, so how do we harness its seemingly limitless potential while managing the risks? How do we invest in the future of further education? How can we better make progress in the sector? The topics for the day, chosen because they’re popular with FE News contributors and followers, present some of the biggest challenges and opportunities facing FE today. And it was abundantly clear from the morning sessions and then the afternoon workshops, that collaboration must replace silo working. Systemic change is needed, and must be driven by the sector. Long-term solutions are required, not politically-driven short-termism. FE, so fundamental to society and the economy yet so often taken for granted, needs to own its brand.

The morning sessions, including a fascinating presentation from Elena Magrini on data and labour market insights, brought brilliant questions from the floor and on the Slido platform beamed onto the back wall. One delegate wanted opinions on using a proportion of the apprenticeship levy for flexible modular learning. Another asked how do we position FE as critical to achieving economic growth over the next decade. ‘What role does AI play in a just transition to net zero, particularly for future generations?’ enquired one session audience member.

Those who were there at the first FE Collective – this was the first of what will be many – were honing in on how to remove the barriers to progress in critical areas, such as technology and funding. Flip charts, post-in notes and whiteboards were working overtime. This meeting of minds felt overdue, and that we needed more of it. Ambitious aims were now being discussed. How can we create an education system which brings together FE with primary, secondary and higher education to enhance life opportunities and serve UK plc? How do we make FE central to the success of local economies, in partnership with local employers?

The conversations were energising, and there was a collective will to turn the words into actions, and positive, lasting outcomes. So what next?

The first step on this journey will be to capture those conversations, in particular the critical issues highlighted and potential solutions proposed, and wrap them into a report. This report will be shared as the basis for a wider dialogue within FE, and with the wider education sector and those individuals and organisations with influence. Yes, that includes government. For the system to change and improve, the collaboration needs to be all-inclusive.

Thanks to those who attended, to the team who pulled it together, and to the sponsors, including our headline sponsor NCFE, who made the event possible. The FE Collective is here to stay, it’s a movement more than a series of events. So, get involved and have a voice.

And, Gavin and the team very much hope we will see you at the next FE Collective in 2024. This is only just the beginning. Watch this space!

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