It’s FE, Jim, but not as we know it

Smita Jamdar

The Twittersphere was briefly alive on Monday with an article in the Financial Times which claimed that a report commissioned by the Gazelle Group had concluded that the further education college system as we know it is obsolete. Unsurprisingly, eyebrows and (for some) hackles were raised.

The report itself contained no such damning indictment, but rather highlighted the need for change in the sector. It argued that today's students need to prepare for a life of work that will span different jobs and most probably some self-employment.  That would require not only deep technical skills, but also softer personal characteristics such as adaptability, team working, creativity. Workers who demonstrate these “T-shaped characteristics” develop them through years of reflective experience in real practice. Time spent “at college” undoubtedly has a role, but it cannot replace this developmental experience. The report contended that 21st century learning needed to recognise the symbiotic relationship between learning and work, and the concept of learning through and as work.

The report rejected the notion that the solution lies in employers taking more control of the curriculum or methods of delivery. Instead, entrepreneurial learning focuses on self-directed learners with teachers as facilitators rather than pedagogues.

Examples of this type of learning already exist within the FE system but the report’s thrust was that the transformative change needed to achieve it more widely would not be driven by government policy or funding, and therefore would not happen from mainstream delivery but rather from disruptive innovations at edges of the system.

So in reality the report’s far from controversial conclusion was that FE like everything else needs to change. What is being proposed may entail a tri-partite engagement between colleges, employers and individuals to achieve truly relevant lifelong learning. Arguably, far from suggesting the obsolescence of the FE system, it hints at a future where the system will play a greater role in the entirety of a person’s working life rather than just being seen as a bridge to be crossed at the outset of it.

Smita Jamdar
Partner and Head of Education
For and on behalf of SGH Martineau LLP
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From → General Interest

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