Devolution and localism are the Government’s latest big ideas for education and skills — backed up with a rhetoric that speaks of power going to localities, institutions and professionals. The Policy Consortium wants to test the FE sector’s views about these ideas.
Ministers insist that the outcomes of Area Reviews, a greater role for Local Enterprise Partnerships and measures to cut red tape will enable the sector to focus on meeting local employer and community needs, expanding learning opportunities for all and, especially, promoting the development of apprenticeships as a route into skilled employment.
Will this come about? Or will greater local freedom be undermined by national obsessions such as the arbitrary target of 3 million apprenticeship starts, a misplaced enthusiasm for GCSEs in English and maths and a loans programme that has stalled?
The third annual FE and Skills survey by the Policy Consortium, published in association with FE Week, is launched today. The previous surveys gave unique insight into what practitioners are thinking, and this survey promises to do the same. Policy-makers would be well-advised to take note of the findings.
In the first survey, ‘Taking the pulse of education — the Great FE and Skills Survey of 2014’, concerns over funding took precedence over everything else. Now that we can see clearly how deeply the resources for FE have been cut, we can see how prescient that survey proved to be. We expected the second survey, ‘Checking the Pulse -— Going from bad to worse’, also to focus on funding. Although it was still a major concern, deeper fears were voiced about systemic failure — perceived threats to the viability of institutions, to adult learning as a whole or to the nature of FE as we have known it. Significantly these concerns were highlighted in the survey before the NAO made the financial fragility of colleges headline news and triggered the wave of area reviews now preoccupying the sector.
Taking a further check of the pulse should enable people to judge whether the concentration and specialisation expected to result from area reviews will make matters better or worse. The survey should give an insight into whether those at the sharp end think that the apprenticeship levy will energise business involvement or overwhelm employers with a new bureaucracy. It should also give an indication as to whether the decision of George Osborne, the Chancellor, not to proceed with even deeper cuts, following a 35% reduction in adult skills budgets has allayed fears.
As well as system collapse, the list of concerns in the second annual survey was topped by funding, change, workload and bureaucracy. Worries about English and maths teaching and the ‘broad direction of travel’ for FE followed close behind, as almost a thousand teachers, leaders, managers, support staff, advisers and other professionals took part in the survey in order to offer their thoughts and express their feelings on FE and skills with the general election then just days away.
The third survey will gather and analyse your views on a range of current relevant topics concerning FE, and of concern — from Government policy to teaching resources, curriculum change to staff morale, partnerships to inspection. You have chances to express your opinions on issues we have not considered. There are also two open-ended questions that ask for your views on the single most important issue affecting further education and skills and where there is room for optimism. Make sure you use this opportunity to get your views heard.
The results, analysis and reactions will be published in early May in FE Week. There will be a more detailed report on the research and what it indicates from the Policy Consortium shortly afterwards.
Mick Fletcher and Ian Nash are members of the Policy Consortium