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The government's productivity plan, published in July, set out a vision to extend the scope of localism in the further education sector.Following pilots in the north of England, the plan proposed that more regional authorities would take on powers to shape their local skills agenda.This could lead to more targeted basic skills provision together with professional and technical programmes tailored to local needs, it said.Good further education colleges are powerhouses of economic development. By working with local authorities and employer bodies they are perfectly placed to bridge skills gaps and drive local economic growth.In theory then, the more power that is handed to local bodies who understand the local skills and employment needs, the better.My question is that in a time of austerity there is very little left to localise.School and sixth form funding will not be devolved, which just leaves apprenticeship funding (already allocated to employers) and adult skills (already cut by nearly 30 per cent with few signs of long-term survival).It is well documented that when times are tough, governments localise. My concern is that, with what little remains, will the localism deal come with a requirement to top-slice funds to central government? This could mean even less for local learners and less opportunity for employers to meet their emerging employment needs.As announced last week, The Association of Colleges will be working with the University of Oxford to investigate the impact of these devolution proposals on the sector.The research project, called 'leadership in a world of change' will explore how localism can be achieved against a backdrop of cuts to the FE sector.Ayub Khan, Chief Executive of the Further Education Trust for Leadership, the body funding the research, commented that "the sector needs time and space to think about the changes required to strengthen its future".I just hope that it will be allowed this time and space when the pace of change is faster than ever before.The roll out of area-based reviews is now underway, driven by an aim to achieve a sector comprising "fewer, larger, more resilient and efficient providers".Our country certainly needs strong, resilient and efficient providers – but it also needs ones that can be locally responsive. If we are to achieve the promise of localism, we must ensure that colleges remain agile enough to deliver a local skills agenda that will combine to increase the country's productivity. A small number of very large institutions may not be the answer.Sally Dicketts (http://www.twitter.com/SallyDicketts)is group chief executive of Active Learning, an education group that includes Banbury and Bicester College, City of Oxford College and Reading College
Last year a quarter of a million students passed GCSE maths, and then dropped the subject completely. With recent YouGov polling indicating that over 80% of business leaders are looking for employees with practical maths skills, the chasm between employers' needs and employees' abilities is growing wider by the day.
Businesses are rapidly growing aware of this skills gap, with 62% of them saying that young people are disadvantaged in the global jobs race due to their lack of maths skills. In our rapidly changing job market, the danger is that many companies will move their operations to countries where those skills are available. In short, increasing the number of post-16 students doing maths is a major challenge that has to be met across Britain.
To help improve the future prosperity and life chances of young people in the UK, we need to help them prepare for the challenges that lie ahead. That's why we need to help more young people who achieve GCSE maths (grade C or above) to continue with maths. We need to help students appreciate the relevance of maths to everyday life, including current and future studies and work opportunities.
A Higher Education Academy (HEA) Mathematics Transitions report investigated the mathematical and statistical requirements of university degrees in Business and Management, Chemistry, Computing, Economics, Geography, Sociology and Psychology. They discovered over 80,000 students struggled to meet the mathematical demands of these courses. Also, around 178,100 of 16 to 18-year-olds failed to complete the post-16 qualifications they had embarked upon in 2012-13. These problems could be addressed if maths qualifications were made more relevant to young people's future career prospects and their everyday lives.From agriculture to transport and logistics it is easy to spot the growing employer demand for maths skills. In a recent visit to an agricultural college, a teacher explained to me that her students responded very well to mathematical questions that were rooted in real life situations they covered within their courses. One maths puzzle asked students how much milk yield they could expect from a herd of dairy cattle feeding off so many hectares. The students were able to work out in their heads exactly how many litres of milk on average the herd would return. This proved far more effective than the abstract algebra equation that would have yielded the same result.It is clear that for today's students, their employment prospects on leaving education are strongly influenced by their ability and confidence in using mathematics. This affects all individuals, from those requiring basic numeracy and financial awareness, to those using high level maths. We must recognise that for the majority of students, their requirements are different from those who study mathematics in preparation for studying degree-level mathematics.A new DfE funded Core Maths Support Programme run by the CfBT Education Trust aims to tackle this precise challenge. Professor Paul Glaister from Reading University states: "This is the most the significant development in 16-19 mathematics education in a generation". The nature of Core Maths qualifications are intentionally different from a student's typical experience at GCSE. The aim is to make the course accessible through students encountering problems that are set in a realistic context. Thus making mathematics more meaningful and addressing the criticism that mathematics is not relevant to everyday life.Most importantly, Core Maths gives young people an incentive to want to stay with maths beyond GCSEs, in turn helping boost their confidence in applying maths skills to a wide range of settings within work, study and life. This is a simple solution to a complex challenge, but one which should be blindingly obvious to all!
Dr Deirdre Hughes OBE is chair of the Promoting Core Maths Senior Advisory Board for the Core Maths Support Programme. She is also Principal Research Fellow, Warwick University, Institute for Employment Research (IER)
Follow Twitter: @thecmsp @DeirdretalksVisit: http://www.core-maths.org/students
FE is about to undergo change, an uncomfortable change that colleges are urged to participate in.
The FE East Coast Swing is about to rock'n'roll following the admission by the education minister that it is in a 'fragile state'.In layman's terms this means college finances are stretched, in some cases with excruciating losses. Many in FE believe this to be a funding crisis, the Government does not.To get this 'fragile' situation sorted the Government wants all colleges to take part in area-based reviews. It is not looking to cut current funding, this has already be done, which is why some would say, they are where they are. What the Government have been clear about is that they want funding better managed, with better education outcomes; they want cake.What has been acknowledged so far is that post 16 colleges, in general, are in a pickle and the 'fragile' talks and area reviews give an indication to the strategic mind-set behind recent activities.Post 16 reviews will be taking place throughout the country with financial efficiency as a primary driver. Collaboration between colleges is being sought comprising a vision on what an area needs as a whole, including provision and greater specialism.Strategy goes before structureWhat is being challenged is the whole structure of FE. In commercial enterprise nothing changes without having a clear strategy in place first; when organisational strategy changes, structure follows, with roles and functions being realigned to the new objectives. So herein lies the challenge of the FE collaborative deal.Change is always unsettling; for staff, for students, for parents, and for the local community; it's hard to visualise and hard to drive through with so much personal stuff at stake.On the table as an outcome of the reviews is curriculum rationalisation; restructuring is not ruled out and bubbling in policy background is talk of a specific strategy for technology, more local control and an education emphasis that leads to employment.Outcomes may lead to Government intervention and that could be significant for some colleges and as a review can be triggered by a proactive proposal it's worth a college getting involved.Colleges would be wrong to think this is a chance to pitch in for more money the 'fragile' truth is that the Government is not envisaging any more, this is not the purpose of the exercise but they do want support from businesses through local partnerships.An overall assumption from the area reviews is that colleges will be saving money and thus any change will be funded from future surplus of the savings, local business partnerships and local authorities. Local authorities will be expected to provide money too from their skills budgets so colleges can make the changes.Examples are already being made across the country; in North East Norfolk and North Suffolk five colleges are collaborating following a review earlier this summer. Between them they were facing a deficit of over £1.3m. The financial challenge was clear but when this was combined with a falling college age population in the area it became a 'no brainer' decision to merge.The same with three colleges in east London that were facing £3m in cuts and accumulated annual losses of £4m they too decided to join forces.Why colleges need to be involvedPeriodic change whatever the institution is always necessary because over time structures become dysfunctional, schizophrenic, given changing demographics, economics and politics. FE change will depend on the catchment areas and collective college demographics and curriculum. Curriculum rationalisation may be part and parcel of the new wholesale design.Colleges need to get involved to take care of the nitty-gritty implications that comes with change that visionaries tend to overlook; they see the forest not the trees, like the impact on jobs, travel, access, accommodation and recruitment. The latter as Morgan Hunt knows only too well, being a major consideration for any college.Whole area strategies will be under discussion looking at how collectively colleges can achieve synergies. The emphasis on technology will see technology specific institutions set up where economies of scale can be gained.Student marginal cost across courses and campuses can dramatically improve finances and indicate where economies can be made.Compromise will indeed need to be made but getting involved and being part of the FE Boogie-woogie is always better than standing on the sidelines.Chris Wimshurst is education director at Morgan Hunt, which works in partnership with the FE sector, offering consultancy around recruitment solutions from lecturers to principal level
When we hear the word 'education', most of us (consciously or unconsciously) reach for the ideas of formal education, classrooms, teachers, certificates and authority. These are the easy and obvious stereotypes because they are most prominent in our cultural context. These are the measurable forms, and the ones which gain most funding opportunities because of their familiarity. What I am interested in, however, is developing the informal educational landscape and opening out new possibilities of in learning. I shall be telling you about what the Ragged University (http://www.ragged-online.com/) is trying to embody.
The Ragged University project takes forward the grand history of the Ragged Schools (http://www.ragged-online.com/2012/08/history-ragged-schools-2/), and has been running for over five years, exploring and evolving understandings of knowledge building and exchange in informal settings. The reason the project has emerged this way is simple; I wanted to avoid a 'more of the same' attitude, and develop something which represented the diversity of human experience that we encounter on a day to day basis. Life endlessly presents us with new and fascinating combinations and curiosities; the messy unexpected and the unique – we only need to spend a day with a child to have this acutely highlighted to us.
So much of life happens outside of the structured and ritualised spaces we painstakingly build. We have boardroom meetings and show meticulous PowerPoint slideshows but discover that we go to the pub afterwards where the deep connections happen. We go to densely nutritious lectures where we are exposed to a lifetime's thinking, and discover that it is only over coffee later where we get to rehearse the ideas encountered that light bulbs click on. The structured and institutionalised spaces rely on these informal links to bring together, bind and make sense of the regimented spaces – they are symbiotically required of each other.
For the purposes of Ragged University, it was essential to make use of the informal spaces that traditionally people made use of to meet with other people; part of the core the aim of the project being to embody community through engendering the act of communing. When looking at institutional and formal spaces, I realised that they had been formed for specialised purposes. They have their own cultures which suggest a clear purpose and way of being in those spaces. Being aware of this was important as people can find formal spaces imposing and forbidding; they impose on our behaviour by way of their purpose. Even trained people can suffer from 'impostor syndrome (http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/nov/09/impostor-syndrome-oliver-burkeman)'.
Informal spaces hold the qualities of being more flexible and welcoming; they are more malleable to the people who are in the space, and therefore – in a sense – more democratic. Ways of being and rules of conduct, as well as purpose and means of achieving that purpose, are negotiated and re-negotiated constantly by the people collecting in the social space. Professor Ray Oldenburg talks about 'third places' – places other than the home and work – in which we gather. He refers to them as 'great good places', and describes them as having complex social function which we need to recognize and support.
It was in these types of spaces that I saw great untapped possibilities in terms of education. An educational context which we could negotiate and re-negotiate; one where we could meet old friends and discover new friends. One which was flexible to the needs of those inhabiting the space rather than a space which shapes the people who move inside it. This is the setting of the Ragged University as an idea.
The Ragged University emerged as a place of learning where place denotes belonging for everyone. Organisationally it is critical to avoid there being decided and set views of knowledge; instead the project works on the exercise to discover the author in each person... Everyone is a Ragged University, accredited with their life experience, and with a membership of one. People talk and share what they are passionate about, doing all the things it takes for a human to muster and tell the story of what they have learned; we learn through teaching and develop our character in doing so.
There is no formal certificate. There are no formal exams. It is not about CVs and creating an unnatural gravity around finance or 'employability'. It is not about being the world authority on a subject – it is arguable that no-one can be this as knowledge is a joint venture; a public endeavour. Much more than all of this, it is about valuing knowledgeable people and creating a setting where anyone can flourish. The project is about education as a public good, a commons which belongs to us all, and to which we all belong. We welcome contributions (http://www.ragged-online.com/contact/) to the Ragged University project such as writing an article or doing a talk: to consciously share what you know in an informal space or with your local community education project.
Alex Dunedin runs The Ragged University
Government departments are currently undertaking a Spending Review looking for savings and reshaping of services which would help the Treasury to save £20 billion. On 25 November, the Government will announce the results.
There is a target to cut the post-16 education budget by between 25% and 40% but it is difficult to see where £6 billion can be cut from in the next four years, without significant damage being caused.AoC looked at this target and coupled with the austerity measures the country has experienced in the last six years. We devised 10 proposals to improve post-16 education and save money in the long term and submitted them to the Government as part of a consultation on the review.Savings would be possible if the Government closed small sixth forms, reformed pensions in the public sector, tackled the national addiction to qualifications and extended student loans into further education.At the same time we identified areas of post-16 education that cannot stand further cuts without having serious consequences - for example 16-18 funding levels. Funding levels for 16 to 18-year-olds are markedly lower than for 5 to 16-year-olds and have already experienced savage cuts. At a time when the Government is desperate to boost the skills of the UK workforce, it seems counter intuitive to introduce further cuts to college budgets. There must be caution about making short-term savings from mergers inspired by area reviews or devolution and the Government should instead look at longer-term funding agreements. The policy change which means all students who do not achieve a C grade in GCSE English and maths must continue to study until they do, has highlighted a shortage of specialist maths teachers and there must be a long-term joint Department for Education and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills strategy to tackle this problem.The Government should, however, be braver in its plans for an apprenticeship levy on all large employers and set it at 0.5% of payroll, but not in a way that involves a pound-for-pound withdrawal of the funding it provides.Funding cuts will always be a challenge for colleges, but there are ways that they can be made more manageable. For instance, we're recommending to the Government that funding allocations be made on a three-year cycle. This ties in with the phase of the Spending Review, but also means that colleges can plan ahead and provide a better service for their students. Making funding cuts with no prior notice – as happened this summer when a further adult skills budget cut of 3.9% was announced at the end of term – just puts colleges under more pressure. The Spending Review will set Government budgets up to 2019-20. There is no reason why it should not be able to confirm the spending envelope for further education and skills for the same period. This would allow for colleges to plan their provision and seek to meet the needs of their local community and employers over the full period.The Spending Review started months ago and will end well before Christmas. Ministers are prisoners of some manifesto promises that will constrain their options. I live in hope that there will be a rational discussion of the options the Government has available to it and a clear understanding that the combined impact of multiple spending cuts on certain parts of the UK education and skills system could be very damaging in the long term.Ministers should consider the needs of colleges, and their students, and ensure that funding is protected in the same way it is for schools.Julian Gravatt is assistant chief executive of the Association of Colleges
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