From education to employment

FE Minister Sion Simon: FE system is stupid

Responding to Joanna Tait, principal and chief executive of Bishop Auckland College, at the AoC’s conference last week, Mr Simon told an amused audience of college principals: “It’s in the nature of systems that they’re stupid. Really, any big system that governs anything at the microlevel is always going to have stupidities.”

Ms Tait pointed to how the system can let down aspiring apprentices who lose their job as a result of the recession. These unfortunate students are labelled as failures when they then enter college as a full-time student. If they later leave this course to pursue another apprenticeship opportunity they are deemed once again as a failure by the system. In the uncertainty brought on by the current downturn in the economy, such course-shifting is likely to become all too common.  

Acknowledging the concerns, Mr Simon said: “Where there are stupidities like that, talking about them and sorting them out is exactly what we should be doing.”

He added: “There are basic things that we’re trying to do already. The Construction Sector Skills Council have put a scheme in [that] we’ve done with them … a clearing house to try and find new places for apprenticeships. We’re looking at seeing if we can do that with other construction sectors.

“We’re trying to get the research into as much fast-intelligence as possible, a kind of market intelligence, about how many people are actually losing apprenticeships so far. About what the rate of coming out of apprenticeships is turning out to be … compared to the rate of which people are losing full-jobs.”

At one point during his answer, the minister, who is increasingly becoming known for his Boris Johnson-like outspokenness, questioned: “Are we already talking about that, I mean, should I know this?”

Newly appointed to his current ministerial role, Mr Simon has a lot on his plate overseeing the Learning Skills Council through the difficult economic climate. As the Minister for Further Education, he is also responsible for developing the FE sector, its qualification reform and quality and standards.

What do you make of Sion Simon’s comments on the FE sector? How would you make the system less “stupid”?

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