Why Boris needs more than bobbies on the beat

12 Aug 2019, 11:34

In response to a knife attack in London on August 8, 2019, Boris Johnson said he is going to put more police on the streets.

Of course he is right to suggest people will feel safer as a result.

However, he couldn’t be more wrong if he had thought that more police would solve the underlying issues that are causing this resurgence in knife crime. This needs to be understood in the context of what is driving young people to seek a life of crime and gangs. Many are themselves vulnerable and need help.

Further education colleges should be at centre of the debate as we seek solutions.

The PM is no doubt aware that more police won’t solve the knife crime problem

In particular, two things need to be addressed – the reduction in college funding and the lack of emphasis on personal development as we focus on qualifications and job readiness.

Funding cuts have meant that colleges are no longer able to offer a broad enough curriculum. This narrowing of the curriculum, to maintain financial viability, comes at the expense of losing provision which would be better suited to engaging some of our more vulnerable young people.

The relentless focus on employability and job readiness, in policy, regulation and funding for FE has neglected that other essential quality of education – the development of character.

Johnson should understand this. His alma mater, Eton, includes among its aims “fostering self-confidence, enthusiasm, perseverance, tolerance and integrity”.

The question is whether these noble qualities should be fostered in the few or the many.

The PM is no doubt aware that more police won’t solve the knife crime problem.

I would argue that cuts in college funding coupled with an education system that is focussed primarily on employability is at best naively dangerous.

One way to chart a more purposeful course would be to promote and regulate FE as a sector with the dual purpose of encouraging employability and job readiness as well as citizenship and community cohesion.

There are multiple approaches to combining the two and this agenda is very much part of the fabric of the FE sector.

To augment a young persons’ educational programme of study with work around purposeful citizenship to help them contribute meaningfully to their local community is relatively straight forward.

There are multiple examples of this kind of work in colleges, including an enquiry-based philosophical approach called AskIt which is promoted by the Helen Hamlyn Trust and adapted to a vocational education setting here at Central Bedfordshire College.

AskIt enables young people to learn to debate, to accept difference, to air their views and to vent any anger in an enlightened and purposeful manner.

AskIt is a methodical approach to learning. It is about how to think, how to question and how to articulate arguments. The college uses AskIt to help young people learn and hone important skills beyond the technical discipline in which they train and work, alongside training to become plumbers, carpenters, hairdressers, social workers, computer programmers, nurses and the many other careers which they can look forward to.

I call upon the Prime Minister to engage with the FE sector in a meaningful way so that we are better able to support community cohesion as much skills. Both are urgent priorities with the advent of Brexit.

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  1. Vince Lord

    Agree with the concept, however, not sure why the argument yet again is all about colleges. There are other provider types that provide this important type of provision too. Unfortunately this is where colleges do themselves no favours. Government should fund the provision which makes the most impact, not fund lazy institutions to work on a “built it and they will come attitude.” Time to wake up and get with the times.

  2. And what provision is that “which makes the most impact”? Considering that colleges, by and large, cater for the young people who for one reason or other, have not performed to their potential at school, or may have dropped out of school, or worse, excluded, Ali is absolutely right in making an interesting observation. Colleges give “second chances” to many young people who, in most cases turn their lives around and gives them a positive experience to become good citizens. To dismiss colleges as “lazy institutions” is not only short-sighted, but failure to understand that the greatest proportion of the 16-19 age group are in these institutions.

  3. Alistair McNaught

    This is a vital message to take forward. Yes, education should prepare people for employability but preparing them for being people with dignity and self respect is a vital part of the process. When the perpetual cuts narrow the curriculum, increase staff turnover and replace full time teachers with insecure sessional tenures it is difficult to provide a meaningful community in which a person can explore better versions of themselves.