I, like probably many others in the FE sector, read last week the newly published guidance on Area Reviews and as I read through the document memories of the 14-19 agenda came flooding back to me.
The 14-19 agenda with its focus on pathways, curriculum cohesion, and collaboration, has more in common with Area Reviews than you may initially think. For although reviews may use a different language of specialisation, curriculum rationalisation, meeting local needs, and accessibility, the challenges it is likely to encounter are not too dissimilar to those of the 14-19 agenda.
I used to chair the Hertfordshire 14-19 Partnership and I was always impressed by the way the FE and school leaders in Hertfordshire were willing to collaborate in the interest of learners. Though what would often hamper these best intentions were bus timetables, train timetables, and taxi fares.
For transporting both learners and lecturers across the county according to a common timetable proved to be a challenge that often beat the best of us. Hertfordshire is not the biggest of counties and is reasonably well served by public transport, and this was a time of LA transport budgets, LSC funds, and Education Maintenance Allowances. So I do wonder how these same obstacles can be overcome when the budgets for transport are not there.
If I was to do this again now, I would turn to technology for the following three reasons:
1. Blended learning travels faster and further down broadband than lecturers and learners down the A1
I’m not one that believes technology should replace the teacher. Blended learning, if done well, can provide the best of tutor support whilst utilising the best of technology. It doesn’t mean an end to contact; it just means contact by different and more efficient means.
It opens the world to new pedagogies and new delivery models - peer learning (adding to the lecturer’s capacity, not diminishing it), flipped learning (knowledge transmission outside the classroom, with lecturers able to focus on data informed teaching interventions within), learner agency and personalisation (the Utopia of personal learning plans), a classroom without timetables (asynchronistic tutoring), and the efficient allocation of specialist and non-specialist teaching staff according to learner need. This will require a change in thinking and the up-skilling of staff, and initiatives such as the UfI Trust funded MOOC on blended learning in FE is a good place to start.
2. You don’t have to change the sign on the door
I was involved in a number of college mergers and federation initiatives within the East of England and whilst there are many successes to shout about, some may quietly ask whether the returns justify the cost of mergers.
With technology you can create a virtual federation without changing the sign on the door, with each institution specialising in a virtual world. I’m not that naïve to believe transport is not needed; but this can be kept to a minimum and with new haptic technology, 3D technology, and immersive learning much can be done in the virtual world. Whilst these technologies do often come with a price tag, if through specialisation you are serving a wider catchment area than your local one, this could justify the expenditure.
3. You can’t pool resources in a drought; but a drop of technology can go a long way
There is an estimated shortage of 1,100 maths specialists and 1,000 English specialists within the FE sector needed to meet the significant increase in demand for maths and English following Government reforms. Even if you wanted to pool teaching resource, many FE colleges have not enough to meet their own teaching needs, let alone those of others.
OCR worked with a group of FE providers in the Kent area on a Government funded pilot of tutor supported online learning and blended learning maths and English provision for unemployed young people without a ‘good’ grade in GCSE maths or English. OCR created a course around its GCSE, Functional Skills, and Cambridge Progression curriculum; using a story-based approach to help engage disengaged learners and we provided support on how to teach and support online.
Without the willingness of the Kent FE partners to share and learn this wouldn’t have been the success that this short lived pilot has been. We and they have been able to explore new delivery models, with a mixture of mentors and specialist teaching staff, and the results are beginning to come through with impressive achievement rates.
Add these achievement rates to the social benefits of engagement and peer support, employability skills (a number of the learners went on to get jobs), and retaining this group throughout the course, and there is a strong case for change. We’re beginning to roll this programme out across the country and you can find out more at TiME.
There is one further way we can support the sector to change. The more we can design our qualifications with technology enhanced learning (TEL) in mind the more we can help the FE sector adopt new delivery models. This has been a core part of our re-development programme of Cambridge Technicals, and whilst having to adhere to the Government’s qualification reform programme for Applied General and Tech Level qualifications and their guidelines therein, we will do our best to make things TEL compatible so the FE sector can focus on broadband traffic rather than road traffic.
Liam Sammon - Director of Education and Commercial Services
Liam is responsible for the support to the 7,000 education centres and 1.5 million candidates taking OCR qualifications every year. His remit covers the full spectrum of OCR’s support from promotion, preparing to teach, teaching and learning, and results. This includes marketing and communications, events, PR, sales, social media, OCR’s call centre, centre support in the field via OCR’s field force, teaching and learning resources, teacher training, and OCR’s website. He also leads on education technology for OCR, including eLearning and OCR’s expanding range of digital services.