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So it is official. Productivity is important and is being measured in the FE sector. We know it because at the recent AELP's conference Nick Boles detailed exactly how much government's investment in FE generates by course level.
We could argue these figures, but the simplistic fact remains that government thinks some parts of the education offer is not as productive as others.Of course we all knew that. It stands to reason that different parts of the mix will vary if we measure the ROI.The real question is what can we do to improve productivity?
What is productivity?This wasn't clear to me from Nick Boles speech. He also didn't say how the figures he quoted had been determined. But, in some senses, that actually that doesn't matter.Let's make a few assumptions based on common sense.Fixed costs are the same whether a class is full or half full. Within certain bounds there will be additional variable costs as class sizes grow but the biggest cost will be salaries and to a lesser extent space. So all other things being equal a class of 18 is going to produce a better ROI than a class of eight.So a class of 18 is likely to be more productive is we measure the ROI.That being so we can become more productive if we optimise class sizes at all times. So is marketing the answer to productivity? Is it just a matter of marketing finding more applicants to fill classrooms?
Applications are only half the answerIf only it were as easy as getting more applicants. Sadly the number of applicants is a result of the number of people interested. Based on recent research I've carried out, far too many people show interest but never become applicants. And where they do apply they often fail to convert as I explained in my last article, Ofsted to inspect marketing (fe-news/ofsted-to-inspect-marketing).In many instances, where we recently mystery shopped providers, we found full time course applicants were invited to interview with less than seven day's notice. In one case the invitation to attend interview arrived after the interview date. In the latter case the provider then failed to follow up the "missing" interviewee, but later sent out an acceptance letter. This being the case there were a number of no-shows at interviews which is not productive. In many cases these people then failed to respond to further letters.
Poor admin productivityOther instances where productivity failed dismally during the application process included providers where the application form was completed online, sent to the provider and then retyped in to the in house system. There seems to be no comprehension that a form completed online could be uploaded in to the in-house MIS and/or other system in seconds and don't need to be retyped.Our quick calculation indicated that the providers making this error could each save more than one full time member of admin staff if they moved from retyping to undertaking the task via moving a csv file from one system to another. The cost of moving the file was negligible when compared with retyping. Doing what they had always done makes these providers much less productive than their competitors.
Bottlenecks cause poor productivityOne observation I note from productive businesses is that the answer lies in the culture of the organisation. They point out that where staff enjoy their work, where they understand why they do what they do and where they are allowed to use their initiative, then productivity rises. But they also point out that this can take years to achieve.The positive message they provide is that no process is 100% effective. There are always ways to make processes more effective. So, they argue, if you can streamline a process here or save 15 minutes there then you become more productive. This isn't rocket science ... but neither was the idea of moving electronic data rather than retyping it.
So how can we improve productivity in FE?What is the secret? Clearly optimising the numbers in classrooms will help considerably.So will making better use of lecturers' time. Why do we allow them to teach the same old rote material year after year when a video, made at low cost, can be viewed by the student whilst the lecturer uses their time more effectively to coach small groups of students and ensure that pass rates are high?Improving admin efficiency will certainly help. Especially if we analyse each process we use and fine tune them for maximum efficiency. We should ask ourselves if we can outsource some simple admin tasks, or if there is a piece of equipment that will do the job better.Improving productivity isn't rocket science. But, as with many of the topics I write about, it needs a different mindset if we are to compete with smaller budgets.
Marketing consultant Stefan Drew was previously director of marketing at two FHE colleges and now works with colleges, universities and private providers throughout the UK, Europe and the US - visit: http://www.ProviderMastermind.com (http://www.ProviderMastermind.com) and http://www.StefanDrew.com
Data protection is an important aspect of regulatory compliance.FE Colleges will handle information about students, staff, prospective students and members of the public and must ensure that they comply with the Data Protection Act (DPA). The DPA includes obligations to ensure that personal data is handled fairly and is kept secure. If a FE College does not respect its obligations under the DPA then the fine can be as much as £500,000. FE Colleges will therefore be keen to ensure that their practices comply with the DPA.Almost any information that relates to an individual such as their name, their date of birth and their payment history is caught by the DPA.In this article, I explain ten of the most crucial points about data protection for FE Colleges to be aware of.1. The importance of staff training, policies and proceduresStaff that lack awareness of data protection can make costly mistakes. These may include not keeping personal information secure or using it inappropriately. Every member of staff should attend training in order to prevent such costly circumstances from arising.Training will enable staff to appreciate the data protection issues at play and what measures should be taken to minimise risk. Annual refresher training is encouraged. Staff should also be aware that they can be personally liable for some breaches of the DPA.The training should cover the everyday data protection "dos and don'ts" such as the rules around information sharing (generally speaking the rule is that personal data should only be shared on a "need to know basis") and information security (for example using encryption, double checking fax numbers before sending confidential documents etc).During training sessions, staff should be made aware of the content of your data protection policies and where to find them. Policies should contain practical examples of practices that are encouraged and discouraged for data protection reasons. Such policies can then act as practical guidance for staff to follow and can inform improved practices. Generic policies without guidance for staff are inadequate. It is even worse however if your policies have not been reviewed or indeed read for quite some time.Further, policies should be updated to refer to any new practices and technology that you may adopt. Data protection policies should explain, in layman's terms, what your FE College's approach is to issues such as data security and sharing information outside of the college.2. Who is responsible for Data Protection?Colleges should appoint a data protection officer (DPO). This individual should be referred to in your data protection policies so that staff can ask questions of and refer data protection issues to the DPO. It is important that staff know who holds overall responsibility and accountability for data protection within your FE College.The DPO should also take responsibility in terms of organising staff training, investigating any suspected information security breaches and keeping informed of best practice.3. Marketing and promotionWhen using personal information for marketing purposes there are additional rules that must be followed (both under the DPA and the Privacy Regulations).Before using personal information such as students' email addresses to aid marketing, FE Colleges should be clear on whether they are allowed to use this data for marketing and fundraising purposes. A first step is to make people aware that they may be contacted by you when their personal information is collected but there are extra obligations depending on the nature of the marketing activity (for example, prior consent is normally required before sending marketing emails). FE Colleges which market using purchased marketing databases should ensure that they are confident that the data was collected with consent to use it for marketing purposes.4. Home-working and using devices such as smart phones and tabletsIncreasingly, staff use and may even be encouraged to use personal electronic devices for college work. This is often known as "bring your own device to work" or BYOD. From a data protection point of view, this gives cause for concern as colleges have less control of the security and management of personal devices.FE Colleges can minimise risk in a number of ways.One option is to use secure remote access software. This is more secure than allowing staff to access web-hosted email systems such as Gmail to send work related emails which often contain personal data. Secure remote access systems will improve your data protection compliance.A further measure is to install device management software on devices used for work purposes such as smart phones issued by the College. This allows data to remain secure when staff use smartphones to access work related emails and documents.A lack of technical measures to keep data secure led the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) to fine a local authority £100,000 for allowing homeworking without protecting personal information.5. Data protection auditsConducting regular data protection audits is an effective way to prevent issues and to keep data protection practices up to date. The DPO may periodically conduct an audit or may choose to engage third parties such as a law firm to obtain an independent viewpoint. An audit should include interviews of staff and is a good opportunity to remind staff of their obligations.An audit should take place whenever an FE College starts using personal data differently . For example, if you launch a new website, open a new office or start holding data in a new way then these events should trigger an audit.Cloud storage is particularly concerning. While this allows individuals to access, edit and save work from anywhere and using several different devices it does present data protection concerns. For example, an employee could create a document on a PC at work, make changes on their smartphone on the train home and then finalise the document later that evening using a personal laptop. This may offer more flexibility but numerous access points can present more points at which data protection problems can arise.Before storing information in the "cloud", FE Colleges should carefully consider the data security implications. Cloud storage services which require that devices remain 'logged in' can cause security issues. Of equal concern are services which automatically share documents, which may often contain personal data, over the internet.FE Colleges should be aware that they may be liable for the acts and even omissions of contractors that they engage to handle personal information on their behalf. Contracts with organisations such as IT contractors and payroll providers should contain robust data protection wording that ensures compliance. In my experience the wording used is usually inadequate. You should also monitor, review and audit your contractor's compliance with the DPA on an ongoing basis and during audits.6. Privacy notices and the right to knowThe DPA gives individuals the right to know how information about them is used by your FE College. The obligation is on you to tell people how you use their personal data. Organisations usually discharge this duty by displaying a document known as a privacy notice on their website and in any welcome pack given to students or employees.This notice needs to explain in layman's terms how you use the personal information that you hold. It is important to make the privacy notice available to anyone who requests information about themselves including employees and members of the public.7. Subject access requestsUnder the DPA, people have a right to ask for and receive the personal data that you hold about them. A request for the information that you hold about someone is known as a subject access request (SAR).SARs are often made for tactical reasons such as to attempt to force disclosure of information which may assist in an employment tribunal or in litigation. While there are exemptions to disclosure of some information, a SAR must be answered and responded to.Staff and governors should also note that there is no exemption for "embarrassing" emails. Staff should be warned that unprofessional and insulting comments made via email may have to be disclosed following a SAR. The general rule is if it exists then it may have to be disclosed so discretion should be the watchword.SARs are a highly specialised area of law and can present a real burden for an uninformed FE College.8. InsuranceFE Colleges should check whether their existing insurance policies cover data protection risks as ICO fines or the costs of complying with a mismanaged SAR can be extensive.Insurers now offer "cyber insurance" which covers information security risks including hacking and data theft. FE Colleges should consider taking out such insurance.9. Disclosing information to third partiesUnder related legislation, The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), individuals have a right to request information held by public bodies. FE Colleges should therefore be aware that their dealings with public bodies may be subject to disclosure following a FOIA request to that public body.Similarly, a SAR to a third party that your FE College may contract with or share information with can result in information that you have shared with them being disclosed.10. Registration with the ICOAn FE College that processes personal data such as student names and contact details is a data controller and will usually have to register with the ICO (although some institutions are exempt). Most colleges only need to pay £35 to register with the ICO but some may need to pay a higher fee of £500.Processing data without registering with the ICO is a criminal offence. It is also an offence not to keep the register updated.Andrew Gallie is a senior associate specialising in data protection and information law at leading education law firm Veale Wasbrough Vizards. He can be contacted on 0117 314 5623 or at email@example.com
At the end of July, the Wellcome Trust hosted a conference for the initiative ScienceLearning+, to report on work it funds to improve knowledge and practice in informal science learning. The scope of the scheme covers engineering too. It's a great programme and long overdue.
Informal learning is defined as any experience occurring outside of the locations and contexts in which formal learning (that is, conventional education) takes place. Museums, after-school clubs, youth clubs, some computer games, science festivals and theatre productions all count as informal learning – as do many other 'learning by stealth' programmes.
I don't go to too many conferences, but when I do, it feels like I'm always having to play catch-up with the latest terminology that everyone seems to know - except me. On this occasion, the new (to me) term was "non-dominant". Non-dominant is a very useful, though arguably semantically vulnerable way of grouping together anyone whose gender, class, ethnicity, sexuality and ability are not that of the dominant group.
My unease was not the dominance of non-dominance, but a concern that an initiative designed to improve the quality and knowledge of informal learning interventions might end up focusing solely on issues of equity (desirable, but not the only aim) rather than on education itself. I had gone to the conference to get a better sense of how we measure the impact of the things we do to try to interest all youngsters to keep their engineering options open for as long as possible.
The Institution recently published Social Mobility and the Engineering Profession (http://www.imeche.org/docs/default-source/position-statements/social-mobility-and-the-engineering-profession.pdf?sfvrsn=0), a policy statement in which we set out how engineering is almost unique in how it has historically elevated talented people from poorer backgrounds. Meanwhile, the House of Lords put out a call for evidence to consider social mobility in the transition from school to work. The 'call for evidence' highlights how the bulk of recent government action in this area has been focused on young people at risk of becoming NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training). The noble Lords wish to uncover more about youngsters who are not NEET, but who wouldn't normally be expected to go to university.
These three things combined: my conference angst, our policy statement and the call for evidence, have all got me wondering whether, when we say 'social mobility', do we really mean social welfare?
As Chair of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, Alan Milburn, highlighted the shortcomings of the Connexions careers service for having: "focused on the disadvantaged minority to the detriment of the aspirational majority." Are we in danger of doing something similar for informal learning?
It also made me question whether when the scientific and engineering communities are talking about non-formal approaches to learning, are we describing different things? For science, informal learning experiences augment a formal core school subject – they are the icing on the cake. On the other hand, engineering is almost totally reliant on this approach as its principal method of engagement. It's the cake itself!
Engineering is not a taught subject in our schools, which means that young people find out about careers in our sector through a combination of (i) having a family member who is an engineer, (ii) good careers guidance, and (iii) inspiration and information - including museum visits, television programmes, out-of-hours school clubs and other 'informal' learning opportunities.
Having a close family member working in the field is not something most of us experience. Engineers make up just seven percent of the population. Since meaningful careers support is woefully underfunded and unavailable to most pupils in the maintained sector, informal learning is all that remains.
While this persists, let's find some powerful ways of measuring how informal learning helps youngsters to know and understand; and for us to identify what affects the thought patterns, attitude formation and behaviours for all young people, from all backgrounds and circumstances.
Peter Finegold is head of education and skills at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers
The existence of a skills "gap" has been recognised in the UK for nearly 30 years and arguably dates back to the education cuts imposed by the Thatcher government in the 1980's. Later, the extent of the issue was recognised when the word "gap" was regularly replaced by "problem" and more recently I and many other people have used the word "crisis" which we feel more appropriately highlights the extent of the "problem".
I was therefore interested to read in the recent Annual CBI/Pearson Education and Skills survey (http://www.bbc.com/news/education-33478930), that Katja Hall, the deputy director-general of the CBI, was using, for the first time, the term "emergency" in relation to skills. Ms Hall is hardly a scaremonger on the fringes of the debate and I therefore think we should take careful note of her concerns.What I find particularly worrying is how, over a 30 year period, a "gap" has spiralled into a "crisis" and finally into an "emergency" despite the many initiatives which have been launched by governments of all complexions to address the issue. The response of the present government to this "emergency" has been to repeat the mantra "3 million Apprenticeships". But let's remember that the skills gap worsened considerably during the previous decade when Apprenticeship numbers were growing rapidly so there is no evidence whatsoever that simply offering additional Apprenticeships will solve this emergency.So what has gone wrong and how can we tackle this issue? Firstly we need to recognise that this is not a single issue but comprises three very different components.We know that there is a significant deficiency in basic skills levels in maths, English and digital literacy, both amongst school-leavers but also adults who as a consequence are stuck in low-paid, unskilled jobs which will probably be automated over the next decade. Secondly, employers point out that that school-leavers lack basic "soft" business skills in areas such as communication, time-keeping and team working. Finally, there is a huge gap in higher-level skills in specific sectors such as manufacturing, high-tech, science and construction. Currently 80% of Apprenticeships are at Level 2 (equivalent to GCSEs) and despite the occasional high-profile news story, there is little evidence to suggest that many learners progress further. Most learners on higher-level Apprenticeships have started their journey there.So if this analysis is correct, we are facing a complex challenge which cannot be solved simply by creating "3 million Apprenticeships". We need to separate the skills "emergency" into its component parts and develop solutions for each area.Firstly, we need to urgently raise core skills levels both in school-leavers and in adults. The needs of school-leavers can probably best be addressed through the use of Functional Skills in Apprenticeships and an extended Traineeship programme but unless the government thinks again on its drastic cuts to the Adult Skills Budget, we are in grave danger of producing a cohort of adults who within the next decade, will become unemployable because as a nation, we are not prepared to provide them with the core skills they require to get a 21st century job.Secondly, we need to focus the Apprenticeship programme on Level 3 and above and in the sectors where the skills crisis is at its worst. Unless we are prepared to take what I accept will be some difficult and potentially unpopular decisions, there is a real danger that we will create a huge pool of "dead-end " Apprenticeships as identified last year in the report from the University of Greenwich (http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/jul/10/apprenticeships-failing-youth-unemployment-skills). To put it bluntly, we already have far more Level 2 hairdressers and "administrators" than we need and simply training more of them in order to meet a numerical target, seems incredibly short-sighted.I appreciate that you cannot force a student into science or manufacturing and an overhaul of our failing careers advice service is critical but during a period when resources are stretched so thinly, we cannot continue to fund those sectors which are fully resourced. It was encouraging to see an increase in the numbers of students taking maths and science A levels this year. However, the majority of these learners will go to university and we need to encourage (and if necessary incentivise) learners who choose a vocational pathway, to take similar career decisions to their university-bound compatriots.None of these challenges are straightforward and that may be why successive governments have failed to get to grips with the key issues. The solutions will invariably require investment (which the government will argue involves spending money which is not available). However, the alternative is unthinkable. We are in real danger of creating a huge cohort of adults of all ages who are both unemployable (because they do not possess the skills) and unemployed (because companies invest in those countries in the far-East and elsewhere who are getting to grips with these issues). That is a frightening legacy and one which we should all be striving to prevent.
Roger Francis is a director with Creative Learning Partners, a specialist vocational training company focusing on the delivery of Functional Skills
Recent headlines have focussed on the Government's 'Boot Camp' strategy to tackle youth unemployment. 14% of young people are out of work compared to the overall unemployment rate of 5.6%. From April 2017, anyone under 21 will have to take either a job, an apprenticeship, a traineeship or unpaid work experience to receive benefits.
Long-term unemployment is one of the worst things that can happen to you. If you have been out of work for a long time it affects your mental health, your physical health, your self-esteem, your relationships and your well-being. The vast majority of people do not chose to be unemployed – why would you? It is a miserable existence on the margins of society being pilloried by those on the right of the political spectrum and patronised by those on the left.
I have spent my entire working career trying to help long-term unemployed people back into employment. I have seen the transformational impact that finding employment can have on someone who has been out of work for a long time. Supporting unemployed people into suitable, sustainable jobs is fundamentally a good thing to do. It is good for them, for their families, for their community and for society.
Those on the left who are trying to 'protect' people from work need to have a good hard look at what they are arguing for. It was Karl Marx who said 'man is a working animal'. Work is a right. People in employment are healthier, happier and better-off. Arguing that people should be protected from work is like arguing that people should be protected from the National Health Service.
One of the critical things holding many long-term unemployed young people back is a lack of good quality recent work experience. Large gaps in a CV are very hard to explain away. The longer someone is out of employment the more difficult it is to reintegrate into the culture of work. Work experience helps to fill the gap on the CV and improve work skills.
So why is there so much opposition to policy initiatives that want to provide long-term unemployed young people with work experience?
I think that the objections fall into three main categories and I will try to deal with each in turn.
The first is that young people should not be compelled to take up a work placement with the threat of losing their benefits. I have some sympathy for this position but think that it is ultimately misguided for two main reasons. First, one of the side-effects of long-term unemployment and inactivity is that it can rob young people of their drive. A compulsory programme forces people to be more active and increases resilience and motivation levels. Secondly, I do not think that it is unreasonable that society expects young people to contribute what they can. Again, it was Karl Marx who popularised, 'From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.' Unemployed people have a massive amount that they can contribute to society and work experience offers a vehicle for this.
The second set of objections relate to the efficacy of compulsory work experience schemes on people finding employment. Many a lazy blogger has cited DWP's research report into the Community Action Programme (even if they haven't actually read it). It is true that low-quality placements have no effect on an individual's employability. It is also true that work placement programmes with no jobsearch element can actually have a negative effect on an individual's chances of finding employment (this is because doing the work takes away time from applying for jobs). However, we know that good quality work placements are the one thing that really helps the very hardest-to-help young people to find employment. Some of the most successful employment schemes have had work experience at their core (the Future Jobs Fund, Intermediate Labour Markets). The critical thing is that the placements are high quality. Those individuals and organisations actively lobbying charities and others not to take people on under compulsory work experience programmes are making good quality placements harder to find. They are contributing to work placements being less effective than they should be and indirectly decreasing long-term unemployed young peoples' chances of finding employment.
The third set of objections relate to compulsory work placements 'punishing' unemployed young people. Let me again state quite categorically – the vast, vast majority of unemployed people do not choose to be unemployed. Unemployment is bad for people. But if unemployment is bad for people how can getting someone a work placement be punishing them? The work placements need to be high quality, meaningful and respectful. But the objectors to compulsory work placements are not lobbying for better placements. Indeed by asking people to boycott work experience schemes they are lobbying for worse placements. Giving someone a way to contribute to society whilst building their own skills and social networks is hardly 'punishing' them.
The language of 'boot camps' is unhelpful and unpleasant but good quality work placements are a fundamental tool in helping young people find decent, sustainable employment. We should support and promote them.
Sean Williams (mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org)is a social entrepreneur and consultant. He advises companies and governments on how best to help unemployed people move from benefits into sustainable jobs