Government funding and regulatory decisions have, over decades, created an education system of silos. We desperately need to replace these silos with structures that enable everyone to access high-quality education that works for them when they need it.
The new report by the Independent Commission on the College of the Future sets out the need for a creative and collaborative approach to post-16 education and skills which addresses unproductive competition between institutions and advocates an approach where the learner is at the heart of the system.
For learners not on the “standard” GCSE to degree track, we need not just a ladder but a scramble net of opportunity that enables them to travel both up, down and across educational levels – to upskill and reskill whatever their circumstance. Different ages, locations, learning styles and abilities, part-time and full-time requirements, career aspirations – these all militate against a simple ladder metaphor.
For half the population, education and educational pathways are not simple linear progressions that can be marked by exams at particular ages. Government attempts to simplify and regiment restricts learner choice and opportunity. We need more creativity in education, and we need to enable local partnerships that can provide the advice and guidance people of all ages require if we are to deliver lifelong learning. Such partnerships will need to facilitate educational collaboration between institutions, both horizontally and vertically to make a “net” and enable institutions to specialise. If we are to boost level 4 attainment truly, they will also need to consider the role of academies alongside colleges, universities and other educational provider roles
Three years ago, LSBU led the call for a DfE pilot programme to develop a model of FE/HE collaboration. As part of this pilot Lambeth College joined the LSBU Group alongside the university and a small MAT. Our group approach is enabling what we believe is an innovative approach to technical education that focuses on career pathways. Our shared educational framework facilitates creativity and means that together we can provide 16-year-old learners with experience of and an informed choice between different learning styles and environments – A level, applied generals, apprenticeships and T levels at the academy, UTC or college. They can choose the route, qualifications and institution that is right for them and we can provide the advice and guidance so it becomes their choice. For example, a student at the academy will sample different ways of learning and at level 3 has the opportunity to focus on a more theoretical A level route at the academy, a more applied route via applied generals at the UTC or a vocational route at the college.
By mapping over 50 career routes across the group we are identifying gaps and duplications in provision, and we are realigning group activity to ensure frameworks are aligned with employment sectors. This approach enables us to ensure no qualification is an educational dead-end and means we can provide learners with an understanding of the pathways available to them if they wish to reach their goals, whatever their current educational achievement.
The economic and social challenges that confront us mean we need now, more than ever, to enable people to move across this education learning net to upskill and retrain and collectively, we need to facilitate this.
The UK’s FE colleges have a core role to play in our education system, sitting across the key educational point of failure in the UK – levels 2 – 4. If they are to fulfil this role, it requires us to recognise the need for and to fund specialist organisations. That is why within our group we will develop a community college to support gateway qualifications and why we are beginning construction of a new £100M technical college as we see these specialist environments as core to our pathways program.
At the heart of LSBU Group and of The College of the Future report are the principles of collaboration and creativity, with a focus on the learner. We need funding that recognises the importance of specialisation and regulatory systems that enable colleges and universities to collaborate at the local level to meet the long-term needs of stakeholders; rather than rules that coerce them into a national straightjacket. We need a system in which both learners and institutions can make strategic decisions about their investment of time and money. We need more prescription and less proscription. Let us hope that the long-awaited skills white paper gives the HE and FE sectors the resources and the room to work, collaborate and to foster together something more diverse and creative.