FE Week mini-mascot (Edition 3)

Follow the adventures of FE Week’s biggest and smallest fan!

Mostly this week I have been having a giggle on the swings in Greenwich Park

And also you can follow our FE Week mini-mascot on Twitter @daniellinford

FE Week takes the helm at the Eastern Daily Press

On Monday Nick Linford, Managing Editor of FE Week, spent the day as Editor of England’s best-selling regional morning newspaper, the Eastern Daily Press (EDP).  Back in June, Nick successfully secured the opportunity by outbidding others at City College Norwich’s Charity Auction, which raised over £40,000 for its Student Opportunities Fund.

The day kicked off with an 8am meeting with the paper’s Editor, Peter Waters, who gave an outline of how the paper operates on a day-to-day basis. The paper employs over 100 journalists and has a daily readership of 59,000 people. At 8am the EDP’s offices were slowly beginning to fill, but Mr Waters explained that it “becomes more frantic at 4pm, when we have our daily conference to finalise the next edition and prepare for print.”

After an introduction to the paper it was time to set off and explore Archant’s printing press, where FE Week is printed and City College Norwich in the search of some news stories.

Once Nick had got hold of some worthy stories it was time to head back to the nerve centre of the EDP and begin to plan Tuesday’s edition with their Senior Content Editor, Peter Hannam. The atmosphere was notably different in the office in the afternoon, with journalists rapidly punching away at their keyboards aiming to meet their deadlines.

At 4pm it was time for the daily conference meeting where the team discussed all of the day’s news and thoughts about what should and shouldn’t go to press. Nick was very keen that his stories were included in the paper. After the conference meeting and subsequent conversations with the EDP team, it was time for Nick to retire as editor of the EDP and return to London and retake the helm at FE Week.

Please, don’t get me started on Colleges Week. Oh, go on then

I hate Colleges Week. Colleges hate Colleges Week. Journalists hate Colleges Week.

Colleges Week (26 September to 2 October) interrupts the genuinely good stuff that colleges do. It’s a constipated, false celebration, where some group of individuals as well as the AoC and 157 Group and goodness knows who else decides to tell colleges what they will be celebrating, what to push, what to say in their press releases and generally take up the valuable time of lecturers, support staff, employers and learners.

The bold statement on the Colleges Week website is particularly grating, it says: “Colleges Week 2011 has one clear aim – to help YOUR college connect with the communities it serves and reach out to unfamiliar or new audiences, boosting your profile to promote the benefits of college education.”

Colleges don’t get funding for Colleges Week. How in a professional, serious marketplace can Colleges Week exist?”

So, for just one week a year YOUR college needs help connecting with its community. What does it do the rest of the year? Does it ignore its community? Does it ignore funding streams, take enrolment lightly and wave away its student targets?

Profile boosting – if your college’s profile needs boosting, why not have a word with your marketing department and ensure you profile is boosted all year round, instead of just one week in the autumn term?

The Colleges Week PR blurb explains that this year ‘Colleges Week is being held in the run up to WorldSkills London 2011 to deliver maximum impact’. Right, so, it won’t be overshadowed then, by skilled learners displaying world-class talent and exciting competitiveness in an international setting? Or by the massive marketing spend that the WorldSkills team have had to throw about, ensuring that media coverage will be the best skills coverage that money can buy?

Colleges don’t get funding for Colleges Week. How in a professional, serious marketplace can Colleges Week exist?

Perhaps we should have Courts Week. We could get legal firms to take a week out of their year to encourage more litigation, they could have limited BOGOF offers like… buy one industrial tribunal get another free!

Colleges should be using their marketing plans to inform their business planning and building properly costed operational plans to help meet their targets, service the needs of their communities and grow their business. This sort of ad hoc celebration with dictated themes is costly, and the return on investment is arguably poor.

The PR company ‘supporting’ the initiative will no doubt submit a hefty report, stating column inches gained, air time achieved and yadda yadda yadda, and tell us succinctly how very successful they’ve been using some kind of industry standard metrics.

But what they won’t tell us is how much valuable PR colleges get themselves anyway, despite this false celebration, or how much additional money colleges have had to fork out because of it. The won’t tell us how many college ‘man’ hours have been taken up, and, how many lessons or training sessions have been disrupted to prove that Colleges Week is worthwhile and is a glorious success.

I’m not a fan of VQ Day either, but compared to Colleges Week it’s a welcome blessing!

FE Week visits entrepreneurial City College Norwich

FE Week could not travel to the east of England without visiting City College Norwich (CCN), and taking a look at the their innovative work around enterprise and entrepreneurship.

The Principal, Dick Palmer, has an innovative approach when it comes to teaching and learning, and recent developments at the college look set to transform students’ learning.

Working in partnership with North Hertfordshire College, Gateshead College and New College Nottingham, the college is introducing new ways of delivering the curriculum to foster entrepreneurial skills.

The centrepiece of this work will be a dedicated Enterprise Zone within the college, which is set to open early in the new year.  The College already has two ‘Entrepreneurs in Residence’ and is also home to student-run enterprises, including a record label and student radio station.

Dragons’ Den-style enterprise competitions are already part of college life, and added impetus comes from the fact that the college is part of the Peter Jones Enterprise Academy.  Employer engagement remains central to this agenda, and the college is looking to further develop enterprise within its five other National Skills Academies (Creative & Cultural, Financial Services, Hospitality, Manufacturing and Retail).

FE Week met with Geoff Sorrell and Corrienne Peasgood, Deputy and Vice Principals, who gave us a whistle-stop tour on and off-site.

Lambeth College use partnerships to crack the employability challenge

As young people struggle to enter the labour market, colleges and other providers are doing all they can to help their students become more employable. But what if the employers won’t play ball?

Furious debate continues around what triggered the summer riots and how to prevent further unrest – too often generating more heat than light. Meanwhile, evidence of how to create the necessary new social networks and pathways for young people at risk of disengagement has seemed beyond our reach – until now. Through recent partnership work where we have effectively handed control over to the young people to find or create their own work experience, I would argue that Lambeth College has cracked it.

if learners come from an area with the stereotype of gangs and worklessness, they will be assumed to have low employability skills.”

Our work shows that progress cannot be made without working with other organisations, taking a new approach which is about much more than qualifications. It also shows that the problems are not all with the young people – employers themselves are woefully lacking in those essential social networks and pathways.

For many years the emphasis has been on getting a better qualified workforce and millions of learners at all ages now have certificates which recognise their skills. But this is not enough: research among employers showed us that they also want evidence of “employability”, by which they mean having the drive to succeed, the persistence to get the job done and being able to relate well to other people.

But while they are prepared to take a degree as proxy for these characteristics, they do not see the same qualities in an FE qualification; so our challenge was to give employers evidence that our young people can hold down a job. Using a small grant from the Learning and Skills Improvement Service, we joined in a project with Participle, the third sector organisation which works with socially excluded adults who have difficulty finding work. They had found that it was not always lack of qualifications that prevented adults from getting employment but lack of useful social networks.

People who come from families with few social contacts and little experience of employment are not likely to be familiar with the skills and attitudes expected in the workplace. Similarly, students from areas of high unemployment and social exclusion, and who have had very little work experience, will also find it more difficult to become familiar with employability skills. Moreover, they may have the added burden of being judged by their postcode: if they come from an area with the stereotype of gangs and worklessness, they will be assumed to have low employability skills.

The FE sector could be doing a lot more to help local business.”

Our students needed a transforming experience that went outside the classroom to develop their skills and attitudes and show them new ways to contribute to their own success. Groups of BTEC students were set a challenge to design a project that would spend up to £1000 on getting their own work experience.

After four weeks each team had to present their scheme to representatives of the College and Participle and the winners would get the cash to put their ideas into practice. For example, a group of Health and Social Care students saw the opportunity to improve their own chance of employment while designing a process that could exist beyond their time at college. They set up a database of local employers willing to offer “bite-size” work experience opportunities and showed how this could be linked to a range of resources to include a text alert service, social networking to promote work experience, career events and open days.

The students were overwhelmed by the positive response from many employers, who were impressed by their enterprising attitude and were keen to give encouragement. The students also recognised the effects that being forced to go outside their comfort zone and work with people outside the college had had in building their own self-confidence. One told me: “I am usually very shy but I know now, thanks to the challenge, that I can do things I never thought I was capable of.”

And this work revealed something else about local employers that really gave us food for thought. Just as local jobseekers suffered from poor social networks, so did many small businesses. Family enterprises with little understanding of how to market their business and recruit the people they needed failed to thrive and often collapsed when the original owner retired. However good our students’ employability skills become, they will not get jobs unless local enterprises prosper.

The FE sector could be doing a lot more to help local business. Talking to employers showed that we are a trusted institution and we could become a place where people go to get a lot more than qualifications. As both local and central government become commissioners rather than suppliers of services, colleges could become a hub for local businesses where they can build networks, develop their skills, thrive and provide employment opportunities for their communities.

Richard Chambers is the recently retired Principal of Lambeth College

Managing the college reputation

The one major problem with burying your head in the sand … it raises your backside in the air. This provides a perfect target for people to start kicking it – and you don’t get to see them coming.

PR is always going to be a balancing act between selling your successes and dealing with your critics and, as channels of communication expand, it’s not just the press you have to woo, it’s also the man in the street – who has access to Facebook, blogs, Twitter etc. Fortunately, the rules of engagement are the same in all cases – stand up, be honest, be open, defend yourself but never get defensive

I use the phrase “rules of engagement” deliberately; engagement is the key. If you’re dealing with public criticism, be it online or in the press …get involved. We are all going to have problems at some point, your aim, in cases where you have no way to defeat the problem, is to come out the other side leaving the impression that you were honest, accepting and working to improve. The idea of a “good loser” is ingrained in the British psyche – you may come out with a bloody nose but if you fight like a gentleman then that’s part of what people will remember.

Engagement is not just about dealing with the negative. Don’t hold back, get out there and proactively engage wherever you can, invite both friend and foe to converse – and do it in public. In the long-term your reputation will be enhanced – and your backside will be much less of a target.

So here’s my top five hints for dealing with PR, from an institutional basis:

1. Engage

Don’t just push your stories, get involved in the conversations, lead the discussions on LinkedIn, talk to your customers on Facebook, comment back on newspaper articles that are online. Make your voice heard as a conversationalist – and that means …

2. Listen

Find out what people are saying about you. Set up social monitoring on the web (it’s easy and cost-free), listen in the bars and on the streets. Mix it with the gossips. Then get back to point 1.

3. Use your people

PR is not a single department; it’s everything and every person in your company. Get them on board and use them to take part in point 1 and point 2.

4. Use your students

Not a phrase you want bandied around in the wrong way … but your students are your best PR – recruit the ambassadors and set them free, make sure the rest are happy and they’ll perform all the PR you need.

5. Promote quality internally

This is a big one; marketing and PR has positive effects on the quality of your institution. Feel the power – and use it to make things better.

Harry Greiner is Head of New Media at City College Norwich

August riots ~ more fall out for further education colleges?

As half of the 1,700 people arrested after the August riots were under 21, colleges may find that some of their students or applicants were involved.  Can colleges take action regarding misconduct occurring outside their premises? Should they do so?

Can you take action?

Colleges can “police their own gates” and take action under their procedures for misconduct occurring outside their premises provided the misconduct is a breach of the relevant procedure. Such procedures may include discipline, admission, enrolment,  fitness to practise, safeguarding  and fitness to study. Whichever procedure is used it must have been incorporated into the terms of the contract between the student and the college by being brought to the student’s attention at or before enrolment.

Can you find out about convictions?

Most colleges’ application forms require an applicant to reveal unspent criminal convictions. But what if the student was charged or convicted after applying but before enrolment?  If the college has a procedure requiring students to disclose any  unspent criminal convictions occurring after applying any breach of this may justify the college taking action. But even if a conviction is revealed the college will need to consider whether it is appropriate for such action to be taken.

Why might you decide to take action?

The college may consider that it is reasonable to take action because there has been a breach of its code of conduct or damage to the college’s reputation. The college may also find it is under an obligation to undertake a risk assessment.  This should focus on whether:

• the student poses a level of risk to the health, safety and welfare of himself/herself or other staff and students, and

• whether that risk is capable of being managed (for example by the imposition of  conditions such as regular reporting to a senior member of staff).

In respect of some professional courses the college may have to report to the relevant regulator any issue over the student’s fitness to practise the occupation concerned.

Why might you decide not to take action?

If there are ongoing criminal proceedings the college may feel it should suspend taking any action until the outcome of the proceedings is known.  However, if the college considers that the student poses an unacceptable level of risk then it may be appropriate to consider suspending the student as a neutral interim measure.

Sometimes the police may ask the college not to take any action whilst their investigations are proceeding, for example to prevent tipping off.  The college should normally accede to such a request.

Can colleges take different approaches?

A “one size fits all” approach is not appropriate – different colleges may take different approaches depending on their mission and resources.  Devising procedures which are transparent, fair and robust and drawing these to applicants’ attention at the beginning of colleges’ dealings with them is vital to ensure that colleges may take action if they consider it necessary to do so.

Trish D’Souze is a Solicitor at Eversheds LLP

DfE denies FoI from AoC

The Department for Education (DfE) has declined a Freedom of Information request submitted by the Association of Colleges (AoC).

The AoC asked to see the list of applications to set up free schools for 16-19 year-olds next September, but the DfE has refused to disclose details.

Let’s talk about sex

Young people are full of contradictions.  Confident, yet uncertain.  Outgoing, but easily embarrassed . Streetwise, yet naïve.  Talk to them about S E X and all their contradictions all roll into one.

At a time when UK teenage pregnancy rates are the highest in Europe – in England alone 90,000 girls and young women under 19 get pregnant every year –  and the incidence of sexually transmitted infections are increasing, someone needs to talk about “it”.  But who?  The obvious answer is parents.  Research by the Sex Education Forum (2011) supports this, finding that young people say that parents are an important source of information about sex and relationships.  Research also shows, however, that parents underestimate just how much their children want to communicate with them – two-thirds of parents believe their teenagers have no desire to discuss sex with them.

a first year engineering student dropped his trousers in front of her and the full class so that she could determine whether or not he had “VD”.”

If parents are unable, or not willing, to talk to their children about sex then someone else has to.  That “someone” is often to be found in a college or training provider.  A colleague re-counts a story of how a first year engineering student dropped his trousers in front of her and the full class so that she could determine whether or not he had “VD”.  Unphased, but unqualified to comment she calmly asked him to zip-up and referred him to the college nurse.

Such stories are not unusual. Young people place an enormous amount of trust in those they see as being in a position of responsibility.   How far this responsibility can be taken without guidance and resources is, perhaps, a different issue.   A recent survey by EMFEC as parts of Sexual Health Programme with Colleges in the East Midlands, identified that 48 per cent of FE staff were not aware of any guidelines for staff involved in providing sexual health information to students.   Supported by the East Midlands Strategic Health Authority, the survey also found that 59% of providers did not have access to an on-site health professional.  Encouragingly, 76 per cent of those surveyed knew where to refer a young person if there was no on-site provision.

Regardless of any social or moral obligation to ensure that young people in colleges and other provider organisations are given the best advice possible, there is a strong business case for doing so; recognition in the Common Inspection Framework, for example, that attendance, retention and achievement improve when learners are healthy. Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) also enhances the overall quality of provision and reflects favourably on Leadership and Management in terms of safeguarding.

It is clear that some form of sexual health provision in provider organisations offer young people flexibility, convenience and support which benefits both the individual and the provider.  At a time when there is a shake-up of the NHS and public sector services face financial cutbacks the extent to which providers can address the sexual health needs of their learners is uncertain.   What we can do, however, is to advise, provide guidance and know where to refer young people for professional help.

Paul Eeles is Chief Executive of EMFEC and tweeting as @pauleeles