With Prevent and British values still in the spotlight, now is a bad time to lose the National Council of Faiths and Beliefs in Further Education, says Sam Parrett.

As we approach the end of an extremely busy term, and indeed year, I am saddened to learn that the National Council of Faiths and Beliefs in Further Education will close down in March 2017.

There has never been a greater need for understanding and tolerance of faith and beliefs. At a time when Prevent is under the spotlight, Ofsted has made it very clear that colleges need to be assessing the impact of their policies. This is something the FBFE can support, with its expert understanding and experience of these very issues.

Yet another victim of FE funding cuts, the FBFE was previously well supported by the sector – both directly through college subscriptions and indirectly via income-generating activities with organisations like the government-funded Education and Training Foundation.

However, much of this funding has dried up and the charity has been left with no option but to close.

Over the years the FBFE has brought together a unique combination of college managers, principals, chaplains and members drawn from the many other faith and belief communities found in FE.

Since its inception in 2008, representatives from many organisations have been involved, including the Association of Colleges, the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, the former National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, and Ofsted. I myself have been a trustee since 2011.

As leaders of colleges or groups of students, we may be led by spirituality, a strong moral compass, a sense of purpose or indeed all three. We all draw on our own personal values and beliefs, whether these are founded in faith or not, when making decisions and often need guidance.

This is exactly what the FBFE supports, and it is entirely unique in terms of the service it can provides to the sector. Put simply, no other organisation can offer the same support.

There has never been a greater need for understanding and tolerance

Not only has the FBFE produced a range of excellent materials for the Spiritual, Moral, Social Cultural development (SMSC) curriculum, it has also trained many colleges in how to implement it.

Staff can often find it challenging to deal with controversial issues that relate to faith and beliefs. This is entirely understandable but makes it all the more imperative that they receive support.

Here at London South East Colleges we have used FBFE’s consultancy and training services to support our British values programme. We have also engaged the organisation to help train our staff on issues relating to religious tolerance.

This has been especially important where we are located in Greenwich, which has had a sad history of racial tensions and high-profile murders and incidents that have hit the national headlines.

There is no doubt that understanding issues relating to faith, belief and culture is essential for those working in FE and within society generally. The mission of our sector is to educate and train the next generation of citizens, apprentices, employees and employers.

Colleges all put a strong emphasis on the employability skills of our students. Integral to this is the development of personal qualities within an individual and the way they can relate to others as well as technical skills and knowledge.

To deliver this to our students – as well as meeting the requirements of Prevent and the Common Inspection Framework to promote British values – we and others in the sector need external, expert support.

This development is both disappointing, but very worrying. At a time when faith, belief, culture and identity are high on the political agenda – set against a background of increased hate crime – the sector simply cannot afford to ignore the issues.

It’s time to mobilise on this issue. We need to restore the FBFE or think long and hard about what will take its place.

 

Sam Parrett OBE is principal and CEO of London South East Colleges