Friday, 22 July 2016

Doing the Ministerial shuffle

In the last few weeks, Britain’s political landscape has been shaken. The first big change was the EU Referendum result, with the subsequent resignation of David Cameron, the Conservative leadership race and finally the appointment of a new PM, alongside a team of new ministers.

As someone who’s always been proud to say they attended a comprehensive school, I felt that it was positive news the new Secretary of State heading up the Department for Education shared a similar educational background.

Justine Greening’s appointment to head up the department has doubtless come as further good news to those who attended a sixth form college, as she is well known for sitting her A Levels at one, before progressing on the well tread higher education pathway. This, it has been argued, will stand her in good stead as she moves into her new position. The chief executive of the AoC, Martin Doel, told TES that he was ‘pleased’ her good knowledge of the FE and skills sector as well as other college issues. The new Secretary of State herself also feels comfortable with FE, stating in the past that it was a ‘vital’ pathway for students, and also promoting her commitment to education as a tool for social mobility.

Justine Greening comes to the role from DFID Pic:

But she will undoubtedly face challenging times, as austerity endures and funding continues to dry up. There are also other big changes in her own department, which will undoubtedly cause fresh challenges, as the DfE takes on responsibility for further education policy, alongside apprenticeship and wider skills policy.

These changes make a lot of sense in my view, with the DfE able to act in a more strategically synchronised manner – a style of working I’ve previously advocated. Rather than the DfE’s responsibility for education automatically cutting off at age 18, the new changes will ensure that there is greater joined up thinking in order to ensure that students – whatever their age – are getting the best possible further education outcomes. And surely that’s good news.

This new style of working will also mean the incoming Apprentices and Skills Minister, Robert Halfon, gets the benefit of working in one department, rather than splitting his time between BIS and the DfE. And Mr Halfon will be bringing a solid knowledge of the FE and skills sector to the role, having had significant experience of it and as a leading Westminster champion for apprenticeships.

Robert Halfon is the new skills minister Pic:

So am I pleased with the changes at the Department for Education? While I’m certainly not disappointed by them, I think it’s really a question of waiting to see what happens as a consequence of the ministerial shuffle, as well as the departmental shuffle. I would like to think joining up the responsibilities of the new Apprentices and Skills Minister to have him working with one department will make education policy ever more robust for every learner, but as with most things in life, only time will really tell.

Regardless of what might happen in future, I would like to wish all of the new ministers a warm welcome, and say that I look forward to working with you to further our common goal of getting the best possible outcome for every student.

Monday, 18 July 2016

The importance of synchronicity in Further Education

Synchronicity. A simple word, but a tough concept to actually deliver. Nonetheless it’s a way of working which our College has tried to adopt in recent years, and we’re now beginning to see the fruit of our labours in a number of ways.

So what exactly do I mean by the word synchronicity in a further education context? For East Kent College it means working innovatively to deliver first class skills training, but also ticking other boxes at the same time; a holistic style of strategic planning which feeds down into our work at an operational level. Rather than simply providing the maximum number of courses, synchronicity ensures that the training is also in harmony with local needs. It means our staff working alongside business to ensure that skills gaps are filled through relevant training, resulting in better progression for our learners.

We have a couple of good examples of this behaviour in action recently. Working in partnership with Dover’s Marine Skills Academy – set up by the Viking group of companies – we’ve begun offering a marine engineering qualification from our campus in the town. It’s a good example of how we’ve looked to the local economy, identifying partners to highlight skills gaps in the area, before looking to deliver courses which help fill them.

We’re investing in areas which require better facilities to help deliver the skills the local economy needs too. Our construction area in Folkestone has recently received £1.48 million funding in order to expand its existing facility. This was based on the need for new skilled workers in the area, with the Construction Skills Network South East estimating that 970 more bricklayers alone will be required across the region by 2019.

Our employability area is also delivering results by working in partnership with local business. The team has begun a system of ‘sector based work academies’, which give their employability students intensive skills training for particular areas of the local economy in need of workers. Through the programme, they’ve managed a number of high profile placements, ensuring that students taking the programme are progressed into a suitable role which they are likely to stay in over the long term.

And of course, we have our new training hotel, The Yarrow. The College identified that there was a need for greater hospitality, and professional catering skills in the local area. With a buoyant tourism industry in Thanet, it made perfect sense to ensure our students were getting the high quality, real world commercial training required to be successful in this industry. The Yarrow helps ensure that we can deliver this for the local economy, and our local community.

But synchronicity isn’t simply about marrying education and the local economy. It’s also about ensuring the College, and its students are integrated into their community. I have already talked passionately about our community social action programmes in two of my blogs which I have linked here, so will instead highlight a couple of other instances of the College delivering for the community.

Ensuring that synchronicity is embedded in every aspect of the College, right down to the fabric of the buildings we develop, is core to the philosophy. One great example of this is the recent launch of our new Michael Wright Centre for the Creative Industries on the College’s Broadstairs Campus. A large new capital development project, from the very beginning our design brief required the architect ensure community functions could take place in the building. That was delivered, and we’ve already opened up the auditorium to local groups to use, with great success.

Our Edge creative agency in Folkestone has also worked to build links in the community. The town – which has a booming creative sector – has seen the area working hand in hand with the local newspaper, producing a range of high quality photojournalism which has been published regularly. It helps students build a professional portfolio, and network, while ensuring the local community is able to appreciate the work the College does. It also helps build the reputation of the students, and the wider work which is done on the campus, building the profile among stakeholders, the public and local businesses.

It is this type of holistic, synchronised further education provision which has helped the College embed itself into our communities, better the outcomes for our learners, and deliver the necessary skills for the local economy. It helps us make the most of every opportunity, and ticks all of the different boxes we want – as a whole College community – to deliver.