The latest bundle of Papers which came out from Government over the summer on FE reform pose more questions than answers, nearly 60 questions in all covering most aspects of the FE system.

Nor are things likely to be clear for some time. We’ve got an Education and Skills Growth Review under way, consultations going on around both the Wolf proposals and the HE White Paper recommendations and the Chancellor working away on an Autumn Financial Statement.

FE’s ability to cope with change is legendary. So what does it need to look out for this time?

Five themes stand out.

First, organisational change, creating what the Minister called ‘a rainbow of provision rather than a monotone of grey uniformity.’ Opening up the market is a phrase being applied across the education system at present and FE is not immune. Corporations will be variously considering relationships with University Technical Colleges, National Skills Academies and HE over the coming months with some even venturing into college companies and mutual trusts. A lot depends on the local context, but the Government is keen to encourage greater diversity and liberalisation and will publish guidelines on business models later in the year.

Increasingly, colleges are being asked to take control of their own destiny.”

Second, provision in key areas. For 14-19 year olds, Wolf has set new demands on 16-19 programmes and opened up mobility between schools and colleges. For skills, literacy, numeracy, apprenticeship and level 2 provision remain key along with the demands of the Growth agenda. For adult and community learning, consultation continues but the driver here is the Big Society while for HE, big opportunities will arise partly though new validation arrangements and partly through the ‘contestable’ places.

Third, teaching and learning and the continuing emphasis on quality, performance and outcomes. Increasingly, colleges are being asked to take control of their own destiny. This means greater reliance on internal performance and data management procedures and less on external mechanisms with responsiveness to learners and communities the critical feature.

 Fourth, funding developments and in particular the proposed introduction of a fee loan system for higher level provision. FE has traditionally exercised discretion over fee charging but the loan system when it comes in for the 2013 academic year will see a change in culture with a greater emphasis on pricing, collection and, for learners, returns on investment. As the consultation implies, colleges have a crucial role; not only will they have to manage the system, they’ll have to ‘sell’ it as well.

Fifth, wider structural change with a range of furniture removal going on to give colleges more space to perform. Curtailing intermediary bodies, reducing the streams of funding, removing a number of centrally imposed targets, streamlining the qualification approval process and rationalising local planning arrangements are all part of this.

 It’s enough to be going on with.

Steve Besley, Head of Policy at Pearson and tweeting as @SteveBesley

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