Historically, the further education sector has struggled to achieve true collaboration. In an intrinsically competitive post-16 education system, and with teaching staff availability off timetable often limited, getting together with colleagues from other colleges to plan and deliver joint activity can be a challenge.
The five further education (FE) colleges across Norfolk and Suffolk have been bucking that trend, working collaboratively on a number of recent projects such as sharing learning on employer curriculum engagements through the European Social Fund (ESF) technical curriculum project. ESF-funded provision for those facing barriers to accessing education has also seen significant joint working across colleges and the voluntary community and social enterprise sector, and the regional Visitor Economy Network Initiative (VENI) project is a college and private sector partnership promoting careers in this key sector for the east of England.
So we are good at planning and delivering activity and engaging employers together, and we share skills and expertise in the management of externally funded projects very readily.
The climate emergency presents a new scale of challenge for us all. With new job roles and skills requirements emerging all the time and regulation and qualifications not keeping pace with the changes, it is vital that colleges pool knowledge and expertise to deliver the best possible learning opportunities.
The New Anglia Green Skills project – running from August 2022 to spring 2023 and funded by the strategic development fund from the department for education (DfE) – sought to deliver a step change in our green skills work. Partners, Suffolk New College, City College Norwich, West Suffolk College, East Coast College and The College of West Anglia developed a multi-strand revenue and capital project looking at curriculum, business engagement, facilities and learner involvement in green skills.
The project culminated in the New Anglia Green Skills conference on 15 March at the Hold in Ipswich, organised by Suffolk New College on behalf of the partnership. A key aim of the conference was to bring together teaching staff from all five colleges and give them the opportunity to hear from leading speakers as well as to talk to each other about the curriculum adaptation work they had done. The energy and commitment to collaborate in the workshop sessions was extraordinary, and staff were keen to build on the new cross-college links they had made.
We were really committed to putting on a conference because we are so aware that many FE teaching staff don’t get to go to other colleges or attend conferences. That professional ‘buzz in the room’ that more strategic staff get to experience is so important for professional development, and a really good outcome of this project. Indeed, we hope to work across the colleges to better align our staff development days and make it easier to deliver similar events in future.
All our colleges are at different stages in investing in facilities to teach and train in net-zero technologies like solar, heat pumps, and hybrid and electric vehicles. This is a particularly key area for ongoing collaboration as we develop and evolve training and teaching programmes to meet the huge skills demand and engage with careers leads to enthuse people with new career opportunities.
The green skills project covered all curriculum areas, not just the ‘obvious’ green skills requirements in construction and engineering. In fact, some of the most dynamic and committed work came from curriculum areas that aren’t front of mind when people talk about ‘greenifying’ business; Hair and beauty teams were especially active, for example, in developing net-zero salons, with work on waste recycling and using greener products.
The project has delivered capital investment in all colleges and many small-scale initiatives to improve and adapt curriculum and facilities. The partnership has carried out extensive curriculum reviews; developed many new resources; sent staff on key training and fact-finding visits; and developed teacher development frameworks and tools to embed sustainability as standard in all teaching.
And the best thing is that we all agree: This is only the start.