Professionals in the further education (FE) sector were overwhelmed by the amount of new technology being showcased on the first day of BETT Show 2012.
The hybrid technology event, consisting of both a trade show and conference format, has always been focussed on schools, but made an attempt this year to cater for FE.
Michael Gove was the highlight of the morning, opening the show with a number of announcements regarding a proposed reform of the ICT curriculum.
“Just at the time when technology is bursting with potential, teachers, professionals, employers, universities, parents and pupils are all telling us the same thing – ICT in schools is a mess,” Mr Gove said.
“That’s why I am announcing today that the Department for Education is opening a consultation on withdrawing the existing National Curriculum Programme of Study for ICT from September this year.”
The Education Secretary said universities and business would be given the opportunity to create new courses, focusing on the area of computer science in particular.
There was, however, no mention of any changes to the ICT qualifications being delivered in further education, such as A-levels.
Nor did Michael Gove make any mention of including colleges in the consultation process.
Gordon Marsden MP, Shadow Minister for Further Education, Skills and Regional Growth, said exclusively to FE week: “It’s disappointing that when major curriculum changes such as those on ICT are announced there appears to be little or no reference to the vital role the FE sector and colleges play in delivering ICT skills.
“Both for young people looking to have them as a vital step on a ladder to apprenticeships or job skills for older learners – especially women – wanting to return to work the role colleges play in this area is crucial.”
He added: “It’s slightly symptomatic of the slight Jekyll and Hyde approach to vocational skills that the Secretary of State sometimes shows – and not helpful to the sector as a result.’
Addressing the FE sector was left to Martin Doel, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), in a morning master class titled ‘Enhancing the Employability of your Students: Working with Partners in Industry and Commerce’.
Mr Doel, speaking at the new ‘Education Leaders @ BETT 2012’ conference held in the Olympia Auditorium, said colleges and schools needed to work in a much more organic way with local businesses.
“When government tries to anticipate or interpret demands it puts a straight jacket on how people can respond,” Mr Doel said.
“Those demands are going to be multifarious and they cannot be interpreted at a national level as they have been in the past.”
He added: ”That involves colleges and schools partnering and understanding industry in a much more organic way then its done currently through bureaucratic structures.
Mr Doel emphasised the need for colleges to start anticipating demand, rather than simply waiting for someone to tell them what they’re being required to do.
The AoC chief executive also addressed the issue of who should be responsible for the funding of learning and training .
Mr Doel proposed a three tier system, including basic skills, intermediate skills and advanced skills, which could be used when considering what the state pays for.
When government tries to anticipate or interpret demands it puts a straight jacket on how people can respond”
Mr Doel said: “There’s a set of basic skills, which is the literacy and numeracy and whatever we determine is the basic education which any employer should expect to arrive with them, having been provided for them by the state.”
He added: “There’s an area in between which is intermediate skills, where the young person is being prepared for a particular occupational field.
“Then the employer needs to finish the product, so the individual actually gets closer to that feeling of being prepared for one particular field or another.”
Mr Doel said he thought the final tier, advanced skills, should be paid for entirely by the individual, business or industry.
“The final one is about advanced skills, when it’s very industry specific, and it’s applied to support that particular employer in a very direct way,” Mr Doel said.
He added: “In some areas the state needs to stand back, because it’s up to industry to pay for that part as well,.”
Pearson was one of a number of technology exhibitors offering products and services not just to the schools sector, but for FE colleges as well.
Jacob Pienaar, Managing Director of Pearson UK Schools and Colleges, said: “In the FE space we are beginning to talk around something called My BTEC.
“BTECs are very popular qualifications both in school and in FE, so we’re developing a service there called My BTEC, which in the first phase initially is very much part lecturer support, as well as supporting the assignments, supporting the assessment, helping with them teaching and the facilitation of those qualifications.”
Mr Pienaar said many FE colleges were keen to find technology solutions related to independent learning.
“The needs in FE have been articulated for quite a while now, because compared to schools, you often have a greater independent learning element to it,” Mr Pienaar said.
“Certainly in my experience, FE colleges have for quite a while been identifying that as a really important learning need.”
He added: “They see technology as the answer to that independent learning need, and i think that is one of the crucial things for FE colleges.”
The winners of the 14th annual BETT Awards were also announced on the first night of the event.
A dedicated category for FE was cancelled however after judges received only two nominations.
Ray Barker, director of BESA and chair of judges, said: “The issue in the past has been that this event has never really been an FE event, it’s been a schools event, and previously it was linked with secondary education because of the growth in the 14-19 market
“This year we decided that because of the whole push for vocational training, we would try a separate FE award – but we only got two nominations.”
The BETT Show took place over four days, January 11-14, at the Olympia Conference Centre in London.