#GE2024: Listen now as Let’s Go Further outlines the FE and skills priorities facing our new government

The Skills and Education Group podcast, Let’s Go Further, aims to challenge the way we all think about skills and education. Series 4, a collaboration with FE Week, focuses on the FE and skills policy issues facing a new government.

The Skills and Education Group podcast, Let’s Go Further, aims to challenge the way we all think about skills and education. Series 4, a collaboration with FE Week, focuses on the FE and skills policy issues facing a new government.

27 Jun 2024, 9:09

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Presented by FE Week’s Editor, Shane Chowen, the series features discussions with leading experts from inside and outside our sector and essentially asks one simple question – what does our sector need from the next government?

Recorded in a year that could shape skills and education for decades to come, it’s a must listen for those wanting the inside track on themes such as the call for a sector-wide strategy, the ever-expanding use of generative AI, apprenticeships, the skills gap and much, much more.  

Episode 1
FE: how do we shift from rhetoric to action?

In this episode, The Baroness Wolf of Dulwich DBE CBE and Sir Michael Barber set the scene for the series by discussing the big issues facing the FE and skills sector in 2024.

Baroness Alison Wolf is an economist, an academic and a life peer and has been a Non-Executive Director at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology since 2023. Sir Michael is a former teacher who went on to work at the National Union of Teachers and was, until recently, an advisor at the Department for Education and the Treasury on skills policy delivery.

Their discussion covers funding, apprenticeship reform and levy, skills as a crucial element of economic growth, and the role of employers.

Michael warns against the skills system assuming victim status:

“They say ‘what’s the government going to do about it?’ – and kind of wait rather than say, there’s a problem, this is what we’re going to do about it…….there needs to be a sense of momentum and not being a victim, being a change agent.”

Alison is critical of the Mayoral Combined Authorities:  

“I really think the mayors need to step up a bit. Actually, quite a lot of the money is already devolved to the Mayoral Combined Authorities, and what has been to me very depressing is how little they’ve actually done to take advantage of their new freedoms.”

The episode concludes with Shane asking Alison and Michael what their long-term goals would be for the next government. Listen here to find out what they say.

Episode 2
The Business of Skills

A national, long-term skills strategy that can respond with agility and flexibility to the needs of employers and local communities is what’s required to solve our skills problems, according to our guests on this episode.  

Jane Gratton, Deputy Director of Public Policy at the British Chambers of Commerce and Nicola Drury, Head of Skills and Apprenticeships at Amazon, join Shane in a discussion around the ever-growing skills gap from an employer’s perspective.

Jane makes the point that three out of four businesses surveyed by the British Chambers of Commerce are unable to recruit the skills they need, and discusses how stability is key if the system is going to work.

“The workplace is changing at a phenomenal pace, more digital, more automated, the circular economy, the green economy. What we really need is a slick system for getting people re-skilled, getting them into different jobs…. getting them into new opportunities within employers  … so that the employer can grasp the opportunity and an individual has a really quick way to get the skills they need for them to progress at work.”

Nicola emphasises the effects of the many changes over the last few years – both circumstantial via economic uncertainties and the pandemic – and in the number of skills initiatives; T Levels, Bootcamps, Multiply and Kickstart. She also talks about how, at Amazon, they’ve grown their apprenticeships:

“The fact that there’s no age restrictions, that helps the ageing workforce. They help people pivot, it gives people an alternative – and a great alternative – to university. So, for me, that’s a really strong system.”

The panel also discuss the Skills Fund and the need to use it to support regional devolved areas of skill, and they address the fact that only 50% of students are leaving education with a grade C or above in Maths and English.

Listen here

Episode 3
Who is plugging the skills gap?

With job vacancies at a record high but apprenticeship take-up and employer spend on training at a low, this episode asks who is trying to plug the skills gap – and who isn’t getting a chance to.   

Our guests are Naomi Clayton, Director of Policy and Research at the Learning and Work Institute, and Sam Tuckett, Associate Director for Post-16 and Skills at the Education Policy Institute.  

Lack of investment leading to reduced opportunities for people to take part in formal learning, the role of inequality in who gets the opportunities and the absence of a long-term skills strategy are all discussed.

On the issues of apprenticeships, Sam says:  

“So apprenticeship take-up has declined substantially in recent years, specifically since the introduction of the levy and there’s been a drift to the South in apprenticeship take-up and, when there have been increases, it tends to be the high level apprenticeships and the degree apprenticeships….”

When questioned about the Lifelong Learning Entitlement, the new system being phased in from 2025 that will entitle every adult up to the age of 60 to a loan to access a range of courses at Level 4 and above, Naomi says:

“I think, in general, it’s a good idea, but we think it needs to be more ambitious….We’d like to see the Lifelong Learning Entitlements extended to encompass entitlements at lower levels of learning.”

Sam makes the point that getting adults without qualifications into education and training should be a priority for a new government, while Naomi concludes:

“We really need to make sure that beyond things like the Lifelong Learning Entitlement, we are making it easy to access learning everywhere, that we have really good information and advice to enable people to make informed choices about learning.”

Listen here.

Episode 4
AI in FE – opportunity or threat?

As the use of generative AI expands across the FE and skills sector, there is much debate around whether it’s a good or a bad thing. Does it present a chance to modernise outdated methods of teaching, learning and assessment, or does it put us at the top of a very slippery slope towards lower standards and a reduced real-world understanding of your chosen discipline and overall love of learning?

Self-proclaimed AI optimist, Debra Gray, CEO and Principal of Hull College, and Paul McKean, Director of Further Education, Skills and Training at Jisc, tackle this head-on.  

In essence, they feel the truth lies somewhere in the middle. That with the right management, integration and stewardship of the technology, AI gives us the tools we need to take a well-timed and much-needed look at how learners learn, and teachers assess.

“I think this is a real inflection point for us in terms of assessment methods. We can’t keep using 19th century assessment methods for the purposes of a 21st century economy.”

Debra explains how the team at Hull College have made a conscious effort to maximise the use of generative AI – for teaching, learning and leadership. Students are encouraged to use it as a research tool, to support assignment structure, to consider different viewpoints, to create inspiration and give ideas, to simplify complex ideas and to evaluate feedback. 

Leaders and teachers are encouraged to use it to strategise, provide ideas, analyse data and summarise an often overwhelming wealth of material. The opportunity to redefine the role of teachers is discussed. To move away from the ‘sage on the stage’ and lean towards the ‘guide on the side’ – freeing teachers up to focus on what teaching is really about – igniting sparks, sharing passions and building meaningful relationships with students.

Whilst illustrating how AI can lead to huge efficiencies, innovation and increased accessibility – the discussion does acknowledge it also provides challenges that need to be navigated effectively.

Listen here.

Watch our video with Debra Gray as she shares her passion for the sector.
Episode 5
How can FE lead the green revolution?

How can the FE and skills sector develop an education and training system that creates a skilled workforce for new and emerging industries? And what can the next government do to support colleges seeking to skills and reskill the workers needed to tackle the major global challenges, from climate change to global security?

For this episode, Shane is joined by Charlotte Bonner, CEO of the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges, and Jeremy Kerswell, CEO and Principal of Plumpton, a land-based college in East Sussex.

The episode highlights the debate and discussion around green jobs and green skills – and the implications for our education system and global industries.

Charlotte says:

“Have we got what we need to develop the volume of technical skills that we need to invest in the infrastructural changes and the technological changes we need across society, particularly with things like energy systems, agriculture  systems, travel and transport systems..?  And at the moment, I think, in terms of volume, the answer is no.”

Charlotte continues by noting that all jobs can have some green element and we need to ensure that there’s an almost universal curriculum around sustainability skills – and that educators need to be prioritised to ensure they have the required knowledge to deliver a greener curriculum.

Jeremy flags his concerns for the incumbent workforce. He says:

“I think there’s huge risks.. in terms of people already employed in the sectors who desperately need upskilling at a time of significant change for these industries. And I’m not sure we’ve .. got the freedom and flexibilities to truly be able to meet …the needs of the incumbent workforce.”

The panel go on to discuss the growth in green subject areas, the need for a national food strategy and how that could be complemented by a national strategy for skills for the land-based sector.

Finally, when asked about the likelihood of meaningful change from the next government, Charlotte says:

“…let’s put a sentence in the Ofqual handbook that says qualifications need to be fit for purpose to achieve our sustainability and climate goals….it’s still allowing awarding organisations to interpret that, but it would create radical change really quickly.”

Listen here.

Episode 6
Future-proofing the FE curriculum: how do we do it?

The final episode in the series looks at the FE and skills curriculum and asks what a new government needs to do to ensure it is fit for purpose and future-proof.  

Our guests are David Gallagher, CEO of NCFE, an educational charity and leader in vocational and technical learning, and Karen Spencer, Principal and Chief Executive of Harlow College.

David acknowledges that we can’t predict the future but we can follow hints about what the FE curriculum may be called on to deliver. He states:

““….things like adaptability, resilience, creativity, problem solving, you know, these are all things for me that absolutely should be at the heart of curriculum and hardwired in there.”

Karen states:

“I would like to see something that’s much more adaptive and recognises all of those big themes that are going to come through like digital technology… VR, AI, green skills. And we can’t possibly do that with the setup we’ve got at the moment.”

The discussion goes on to cover the shift away from level two qualifications and the mismatch between what businesses need and what the education sector is delivering.

The need to have a system that can adapt to local or regional need is also discussed, with a call to get all stakeholders – regulators, employers, awarding organisations, colleges and teachers around the table at the same time.

Finally, a call for more trust in the sector is made, noting that with multiple regulators or quasi-regulators, it’s difficult for those on the ground to feel trusted.

Listen here.

Let’s Go Further is produced by Research Podcasts.

Click here to listen to all series of Let’s Go Further

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