The effect of the Further Education Learning Technology Action Group (Feltag) is being felt across the sector, explains Bob Harrison.
At a recent Think Out Loud Club, a community of innovative FE practitioners supported by City & Guilds, the Feltag was described as “a movement not just a report”.
It is six months since the government accepted Feltag’s 35 recommendations and there are increasing signs that the sector is taking ownership of our report. And that is how it should be.
The Skills Funding Agency (SFA) has issued clarification around the percentage of online delivery issue which seemed to cause anxiety with some providers.
It is also running some online pilots to aid understanding of the incentives that might be needed to encourage more blended learning as Feltag recommended.
Consideration is also being given as to whether capital receipts from the sale of underutilised buildings/land can be reinvested in digital technology and staff skills and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) are in negotiation with Ofsted about how the common inspection framework can best support innovation in the use of technology for learning.
But one of the biggest challenges has been the assessment and accountability system. While most agencies have been responsive to the Feltag recommendations, discussions with Ofqual have not been as successful and there is still much work to do before the assessment tail has less influence on the pedagogic dog.
While most agencies have been responsive to the Feltag recommendations, discussions with Ofqual have not been as successful and there is still much work to do before the assessment tail has less influence on the pedagogic dog
Nevertheless some awarding bodies are investing considerable time and resource in their exploration of the use of digital, online and onscreen testing.
Most important has been the willingness of Matthew Hancock’s replacement as Skills Minister, Nick Boles, to welcome, support and maintain the momentum created by Feltag and encourage FE providers “to innovate in the use of technology for learning”.
And I have recently been judging applications for a national FE award for ‘Outstanding use of technology’ and the quantity and quality of applications suggests Feltag is nudging the thinking in FE towards a more digital future.
In my 35 years’ experience in FE I have always found FE teachers enthusiastic and willing to innovate with technology for learning, but they are in need of some leadership vision and support.
Learners are already innovating in their approach to the use of digital technology for learning and life and pupils in schools have growing expectations of digital learning when they leave school.
This is not really about technology but about new ways of thinking. Technology will never replace good teachers, but teachers who use technology effectively will replace those who do not.
The Ministerial intention behind Feltag was, and is, to increase the number of learners and improve the quality of learning and support using technology.
Decisions about the percentage online, which blend suits which learners and the skills of the workforce are rightly the domain of educationalists not the SFA or BIS.
Governors, principals and leaders in FE must take ownership of the problem and decide how they want to realign their asset base. My view is we need more and better teachers skilled in using technology for engaging, supporting and assessing more learners and fewer glass palaces, classrooms, atriums and reception areas massively underused and underutilised for big chunks of the year.
The history of FE suggests that one of its strengths has been the ability to respond to changes in the economy and society in a flexible and responsive way.
This has been an impressive, but long overdue start to the digital challenge facing FE. We need to own the change and pick up the pace.
Just ask Comet, HMV, Jessops, Blockbuster and many other organisations that didn’t adapt to the digital challenge quick enough.