It isn’t an easy time to work in further education (FE). Operating in a large and multi-faceted environment, FE leaders are tasked with delivering the most diverse curricula to the most diverse student audiences. And while they’re often overlooked by the media, who focus squarely on schools and universities, many agree that FE teachers play the most pivotal role in UK education – helping to prepare students for the world of work.
Unprecedented levels of social and economic change, as well as high rates of youth unemployment, mean that it’s more important than ever to help young people to make the difficult transition from school to working life. Alongside young people there are others looking to change careers, or those who feel they are not able to get the most out of the school system, which could also benefit from additional education. FE colleges are uniquely placed to assist with that challenge, as they stand with one foot in the world of education and the other in the world of work.
At Canvas, we believe that the ability of the UK to remain competitive on a global scale will depend on how well its FE colleges rise to the significant challenges they face. And in order to build a pipeline of skilled and knowledgeable young people ready to enter the working world, FE colleges must deliver a rounded education experience which meets the needs of employers and students alike.
Improving collaboration with industry
Large as they are, FE colleges can’t meet the needs of all members of their communities alone. Working with others helps to extend their reach and impact, as well as improving links to local business. Many already recognise the need for much closer alignment between college curricula and the needs of employers, and working with local industry can vastly improve the relevance of course material. Intelligent collaboration ensures that students are being given the right information; in addition to learning the right ways of working to prepare for the world of full-time employment.
In order to ensure that everyone who wants to learn is able to, FE colleges must make themselves as accessible as possible. By improving technology so that course material can be accessed from any location, students can work flexibly around their own schedules, without needing to be tied to a campus. Alongside this, FE colleges need to adapt the delivery of courses, allowing for personalisation and customisation to ensure students can comfortably work at their own pace.
Focusing squarely on teaching and learning
When content and resources are easily available online, it’s key for FE colleges to not overlook the student experience they offer. Putting the teaching and learning experience at the heart of any education strategy is vital. Prioritising the development of great teachers, who engage and inspire young people is key to fuelling a generation of enthused students who are keen to make an impact on the working world.
Blazing a technology trail
An often reported ‘tech phobia’ is fast becoming consigned to history, as educators embrace technology solutions which can enhance teaching and learning experiences. Our own global research tells us that while all levels of education are benefiting from ICT it’s FE institutions that are leading the way in technology adoption. 83 per cent of teachers in colleges use tech in the classroom – up to five per cent more than secondary and primary staff – and are already reaping the rewards of accessible, student centred learning (2015 Canvas Teacher Technology Use Study). FE colleges must continue to look at tech as a way to better engage students, enabling a collaborative and flexible learning environment.
It’s common knowledge in the industry that FE colleges were designed within the UK education system to offer learning to people who most need new skills, and whose skills will be the most vital for the continued strength of the UK’s economy. But only by creating a flexible, collaborative learning environment designed in conjunction with employers, will FECs be able to fuel the workforce with skilled, accountable, young people. The future of GB Plc relies on our education system, and it’s FE colleges, which can most significantly impact its success.
Sam Blyth has 12 years’ experience of working with colleges, schools, local authorities, multi-academy trusts and teaching school alliances in purchasing and implementing new technology. Formerly national secondary manager for Discovery Education, Sam is now responsible for managing the team bringing the hugely successful Canvas VLE/LMS to colleges and schools across Europe.