Secret Lecturer: A game-changer for FE?

Secret Teacher

Secret Lecturer: A game-changer for FE?

Will education ministers finally pull back from trying to make their mark in FE, now that the Policy Consortium’s latest FE and Skills System report is attempting to call time on what it’s naming ‘policy volatility’? Your guess is as good as mine.

But probably like me you will have seen umpteen different, often conflicting policies being squirted in our colleges’ direction not only after elections but often following endless cabinet reshuffles when one politician’s work may often be un- or outdone by another. 

Leafing through the report that could potentially become a game-changer for the sector, I couldn’t help picking up on the Policy Consortium’s argument that the symptoms rather than the real causes of a problem always seem to get all the attention. My workload level often goes up when my college, under pressure from government and its funding regime, asks me to spend large chunks of my time fixing symptoms when I - and the college - know the problem will still remain. 


An independent, non-political body for FE?

I’ve heard it takes about four years to embed a new policy and yet the average secretary of state for education lasts just two, moving on to other jobs or getting the heave-ho like Justine Greening did earlier this year. 

So I really warm to the report’s idea of a separate, politically independent body made up of education experts and researchers with a strong policy memory of what has and hasn’t worked in the past - one that says goodbye to current advisers unaware that some wheeze they have thought up has been tried and failed years before. 

The new organisation would only be accountable to a balanced, cross-party group of politicians acting in an overseeing role. It would be something similar to the successful, largely non-political, independent body that oversees Finland’s education set-up - a system that came about because of a hung parliament’s decision to create an all-party committee to look at education long-term, free of party-political gerrymandering. The Finns don’t seem to have looked back since.


The madness of compulsory GCSE resits

With no political restraints, such a body would be free to ask just what relevant skills, attributes and attitudes we want our learners to possess to do the jobs of the future rather than have them waving exam certificates at us that have little relevance to their careers. 

Why do we put up with the madness of policy non-starters like the compulsory English and maths GCSE resits? The stats continue to prove that most students who have failed before will not pass. And why, even though I’ve heard that around 15% of jobs are about to become obsolete, are we still training people in skills tailored to those jobs? 

The sort of question we have to ask ourselves as lecturers is are we equipping our students with the ability to create? Can they solve problems, think on their feet, possess the stamina and have the transferable skills to really get into something, regardless of the subject? As lecturers, we aim to engender a sense of curiosity and a genuine love of learning in our students. Achieve that and young people can build all sorts of futures when they leave college.


Solve the issue, don’t cure the symptom

So how do colleges start instigating the changes suggested? The report seems clear on this - recognise the difference between a symptom and an issue, eradicate the latter, and the former will disappear. At policy level, the government should do likewise. 

Funding is wearing us all down. We don’t want to see precious resources wasted on some new minister’s folly. Colleges no longer want to be a testing ground for post-election experiments but a melting pot of new ideas in learning. 

My hope is that this report will bring different research bodies together, like the research project at Nottingham University that is looking into best practice in maths in FE. Or the Research and Practice Adult Literacies group, the only national organisation focusing on the role of literacies in adult life. Such an organisation would surely jump at the chance of advising civil servants and policy-makers on what really does work, and then spread best practice among colleges and encourage them to look at different ways of doing it. So much sector expertise out there has been ignored for too long - and that includes my own college. 

At this pivotal point in our country’s history, you’ll have to admit there is an awful lot hanging on this project.

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