Gazelle group report says colleges need a “complete transformation”

Gazelle group members with Richard Branson at the Global Entrepreneurship Congress 2012

Further education (FE) colleges needs a “complete transformation” if they are to prepare young people for the world of work, according to the Gazelle group.

A new report, entitled ‘Enterprising Futures: The changing landscape and new possibilities for further education’, says colleges need to move away from classroom based teaching and recognise the importance of work-based practice and experience.

Fintan Donohue, principal of North Hertfordshire College and a member of the Gazelle Principals Group, told FE Week: “Colleges need to bring work and learning much more closely together.

“What a number of colleges are doing and In fact increasingly will need to do is create businesses and enterprises within the colleges themselves.

“Many of us have started to do that so that our students, who aren’t getting  the opportunities that they need to develop those enterprising, entrepreneurial creative skills, can actually develop them in genuinely real working, commercial settings.”

The report says the current FE system has fostered an obsession with “bureaucratised performance criteria” such as student enrolments and qualification completions, restricting the opportunities for innovation.

Leonard A. Schlesinger, president of Babson College based in America, said in the foreword of the Gazelle report: “The traditional model of further education will not, unchanged, prepare people for workplace success.

“There are major gaps in the needs of employers and the skills acquired by workers.

“In an environment where people are likely to have a succession of jobs during their lives, society needs to reconceptualize what it means to have a career and shift the orientation to individuals making investments in their own skills and capabilities.”

The report, launched at the Global Entrepreneurship Congress 2012 event held in Liverpool last week, says FE colleges are failing to provide a “dynamic, experiential learning environment” needed by students to compete in the job market.

It later argues that students need the personal qualities of “enterprise, networking and creativity” alongside the technical skills delivered by conventional qualifications.

The report states: “What we need for tomorrow’s worlds of work are people with more than vocational skills and qualifications (which often reflect a narrow and reductionist view of employment needs), who can demonstrate a broad portfolio of personal and professional capabilities to engage effectively with others to create value.”

The report, prepared by PA Consulting, says the success of FE colleges will depend on them adopting the same ‘disruptive innovation’ in teaching which is currently shaping the world of work.

Teresa Frith, skills policy manager at the Association of Colleges (AoC), has welcomed the document but says the response from colleges is likely to be varied.

“I think it’s stimulates the debate and I think it’s hard to argue against a lot of the logic that sits behind the report,” she told FE Week.

“It’s always healthy to challenge yourself and the way that you do things.

“New principals will come in and  ask the question ‘well why?’ to staff – well because I think it’s important to not get set into a ‘well we’ve always done it this way’ mentality.”

A spokesperson for the 157 Group added: “The 157 Group strongly supports the work Gazelle are doing to innovate and lead FE entrepreneurship and enterprise within a newly articulated vision and proposed models.

“The gazelle critique is well made and we are delighted to see such robust, appropriate and bold  challenges and well as opportunities articulated, all of which will strengthen the pivotal role of colleges into the future.”

The Gazelle report says the vocational skills found in college-based-courses and qualifications has remained unchallenged in FE for “decades”, and looks increasingly outdated within the modern job market.

The report states: “Qualifications provide, at best an indication of the aptitudes, application and intelligence of potential recruits, but they offer insufficient guidance as to the potential performance of an individual ‘on the job’.”

The report also says employers shouldn’t be given direct funding for vocational training and skills, as pioneered by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) in their £250 million employer ownership pilot.

“While there is undoubtedly a need to encourage greater engagement from employers in the development of workforce skills and capabilities, an employer-owned system will inevitably be focused on the current and particular requirements of ‘big business’ interests,” the report states.

“Those interests may not be the same as those of enterprising SMEs and sole traders (who account for most private sector employment), and certainly will not align with the life-time interests of young people and adults moving through different modes and sectors of employment through their working lives.”

The Gazelle group proposes a new form of study, called ‘entrepreneurial learning’, to try and teach some of the missing ‘personal qualities’ of enterprise, networking and creativity which learners need.

The new learning style would use a ‘daisy wheel’ framework which teaches conventional skills and knowledge through formal qualifications and personal portfolios, as well as creating ‘real world’ environments where students can test their skills with working clients and supply chains.

The ‘daisy wheel’ framework also advises colleges to create  business incubators where students can test their own ideas in a protected and reflective environment.

The Gazelle report admits there is “only a limited economic market” for FE colleges to deliver entrepreneurial learning at the moment, and says colleges should be looking for funding outside of the Skills Funding Agency (SFA).

It  states: “The investments and revenues needed to sustain entrepreneurial learning are not provided through the current FE system.

“Colleges and other providers looking to develop and deliver new models of learning must find alternative ways of securing the resources to create a viable business proposition.”

The Financial Times published an article about the report with the headline “Heads claim college system is ‘obsolete’” last week.

Dick Palmer, principal of City College Norwich (CCN) and member of the Gazelle Principals Group, said the headline was taken “out of context”.

Mr Palmer, responding to Nick Linford, managing editor of FE Week on Twitter, said: “Nick like much media ‘out of context’.

“It’s a great report which does challenge but also says FE can do.”

Mr Donohue added: “The word obsolete doesn’t appear within the report.

“When the others (PA Consulting) were first writing the report and were testing it with us and talking it through with us, as we were trying to wrestle with the ideas and the thinking in it, they did at one point use the word obsolete.

“All of the principals said that didn’t describe the FE sector we work in here and now.

“Which is why as you’ll see when you read the report, you won’t find any reference to that in the report itself.”

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