Thinking about the future of FE & Skills

Thinking about the future of FE & Skills

22nd February 2016

Jill Westerman, CBE, is Principal & CEO of the Northern College and Chair of the FETL Funding Committee. Jill provides some thoughts on the future horizons for the skills and education agenda.

At the recent EMFEC conference, I contributed to a panel discussion on future horizons for the skills and education agenda.

Naturally many colleges are currently pre-occupied with the Area Based Reviews and lot of discussion focussed on these. I don’t want to extend the discussion beyond saying that I regret that the reviews are only focussed on one part of our system – colleges. The FE and Skills sector is currently a set of systems – or you might want to talk about different ‘tribes’. When considering ‘Future Horizons for the Skills and Education Agenda’ I think it is vital that we actively work together to create a coherent system in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We need to focus our collective wisdom on a new concept of FE to allow it to take up a deservedly central role in our education system. As Jim Krantz argued in the FETL inaugural lecture we need more systems thinking. The limited focus of the Area Reviews is a missed opportunity to think about our whole system.

We are rightly known as what Dame Ruth Silver, the President of FETL, calls ‘the adaptive layer of the education sector’, but I would like to see us doing a little less adapting and a little more shaping of our collective future, with FETL research providing a basis for this thinking.

I think we have allowed ourselves to be defined by our different ‘tribes’ and as a result we don’t have the clarity of purpose or the strong system we need. We need to be explicit about what FE and Skills is for – and have equality between the different forms and benefits of learning. If I’m right about our tendency to be ‘tribal’ we need to move out of our tribes to create a coherent and stable system.

To achieve this we need to have new forms of conversation and engagement with others from both inside and outside the sector – communities, students, tutors, employers and stakeholders. It means finding new ways of combining organisations, institutions and importantly – communities, employers and stakeholders too so as to move confidently towards a horizon we have shaped ourselves with a central role for further education and skills.

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