From the other side of the fence: another update from the wider FE community

The start of another year in FE and an enormous number of changes for our colleagues trying to administer and deliver in the sector.

The Diplomas will be starting in September and as the delivery will be co-ordinated by Gateway consortia of schools and colleges the opportunities for hiccoughs are great. The Minerva system for aggregating achievements from all the components that make up Diplomas should be ready but the distribution of funds to partners could be problematical. As a student has to achieve all the components to obtain a Diploma, one can see a ‘pass the parcel’ blame game if one partner fails to deliver the necessary success for a component. The Diploma will herald the use of the Unique Learner Number for 14 year olds (FE students will be allocated them from September) which will enable through MIAP the aggregation and distribution of a great deal of personal achievement and aspiration data.

From September every 16 year old will have a guarantee of an apprenticeship. Information and Guidance support will have to be ratcheted up to meet the demand of 14-16 year olds and systems for assessing competences, functional skills and background knowledge (the Technical Certificate) will have to be more effectively delivered by Awarding Bodies. Employers need engaging especially as the many of the apprentices will be those who are currently not in education, employment or training. Information systems to support them are considered important.

Information and Guidance is also fundamental to the shift in adult part time FE. Employer needs for the training of their staff will increasingly be delivered through the brokerage services of Train to Gain. Skills accounts will be available for individuals wishing to update their skills. Rather like mobile phone top up cards the credits on these accounts will be exchanged to pay for course fees. The government can manipulate demand by charging less for courses that meet their strategies.

The principle that students must pay a contribution for their part time vocational studies is now well established. Unless the student has no level 2 (GCSE level) qualifications from next year students on part time courses will be expected to pay 42.5% of the cost of their course.

MIS managers within the sector are having to face a change in their systems that record enrolments and achievements for funding by the Learning and Skills Councils. With three different funding models (14.18, adult learner and employer) to deal with, curriculum leaders are grappling with spreadsheets to develop the most cost effective mix of provision and timetabling.

Distance learning is still not treated more favourably and auditing systems are still required to collate the hours of tutorial support that are aggregated to determine the funding.

One important factor in funding is that one years funding for a provider can be severely diminished by poor performance in a previous year. Innovative ise of ICT can have a big part to play.

So where are the pressure points where JISC can help with standards and exemplar services?

Firstly for administration and the modelling of income and expenditure and the provision of services that complement the returns made to the LSC. Secondly for Information and Guidance and thirdly for Teaching and Learning.

For these latter two, Becta’s developing strategy for schools and FE focuses on ‘providing Learning Experiences that have access to technology wherever and whenever they require it’. 

They suggest that this could only be achieved if the following were available: 

  • a wide range of tools for the creation and manipulation of multimedia texts
  • a wide range of online resources
  • information on per
    sonal learning goals and student progress
  • collaborative tools and the opportunities to share with others
  • the ability to continue learning from one environment to the next
  • systems to provide protection (inappropriate content and contacts) and
    data security
  • access to formal learning support and teaching when required.

The outcomes of JISC previous and current initiatives can obviously support the attainment of many of these needs.

One important factor within this strategy is a move away from institutional systems for teaching and learning towards a recognition that the future is in providing more directed opportunities for students to obtain and share their own resources and increasingly to use Web 2.0 social networking  systems for collaboration.

Having said that the funding pressures on Adult and Continuing Learning (yoga and holi
day language course) has encouraged several providers either in collaboration or independently to use Moodle to support teaching and learning. JISC RSCs have been pro-active in many cases such as RSC North in support of initiatives in the
Tees Valley.

This sector needs help in staff development of a (generally) part time work force and providing the necessary quality and innovative practice to fight off other providers who can now annually bid for 10% of ACLs traditional work.

FE has grown up with its view on online content. It is expected to be free and for text is generally printed for use. Video clips are more effective than animations for describing such skills as changing a washer on a tap and several centres such as Bolton
Community College are developing catalogues of such clips to be shared by others.

Online assessment is generally normal now for many qualifications. One college I visited is expanding 10 fold the number of work stations dedicated to online testing. Educational purists may grumble but the ability for students to repeatedly take mock tests until they prove themselves ready for the ‘real thing’ is significantly raising achievement and with less expensive teaching is greatly improving income for their colleges.

One other bright spot in development is that concerned with offender learning in prisons and other similar institutions. A great deal of money is being spent on learning centres within institutions where internet access will be available but only to selected sites. A big opportunity for those developing interactions that support the teaching of basic literacy and numeracy and from what I hear about the employers views of some undergraduates something that HE could do with as well!!

Clive Church 1 February 2008

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