Rethinking Place and Purpose: Provocations on the Future of FE

A FETL provocation by Martin Doel

I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute the foreword to this valuable short collection of essays and provocations written by Martin Doel. Martin was appointed FETL Professor of Leadership in Further Education and Skills at University College London Institute of Education in April 2016, having served as Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges since 2008. The idea behind this unique new position – the first of its kind, we think, anywhere in the world – was both to enhance the reputation of research into leadership in FE and to bring Martin’s significant experience and policy knowledge to bear in the generation of fresh, new thinking about the sector. These essays, prepared as prompts for roundtable discussions, demonstrate the kinds of questions Martin has been asking of the sector, while the transcripts of responses give a useful snapshot of current and emerging thinking among colleagues.

Like the professorship itself, the roundtables represented a serious attempt to bridge the divide between academic thought about the sector and the practice of those engaged in the day-to-day business of leading learning in further education. This is an important endeavour, which FETL is keen to support. It is important both that research is informed by the real experiences and issues facing the sector, and that further education, as a sector, learns from and contributes to scholarship, in order to better influence and shape its own future.

The issues Martin presented at the roundtables have become increasingly relevant, and are at the heart of much of the best and most promising current thinking about further education. The sector’s purpose and mission is again under scrutiny, with a number of high-profile commissions of inquiry considering the future shape of FE. Place will inevitably be an important dimension of the outcomes of these discussions, as we consider how best to strengthen and develop the important role played by FE institutions in their local economies and communities. And, as we once again reflect on the future shape of technical education, and consider how best to develop it, place and purpose in FE will be at the forefront of our thinking.

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