Schools based apprenticeships: another landscape

When I started in Further Education nearly 40 years ago, our major role was supporting apprenticeships. Every September stream of youngsters who were working for national companies such as British Telecom and the National Grid and local engineering and construction companies would queue up to enrol for their one day in college to study for a National Certificate.

With the expansion of academic higher education and the abolition of grant aided apprenticeships in the 1980s such programmes fizzled out.

Only now has government appreciated the importance of such schemes and is making the apprenticeship a core option within its 14-19 agenda alongside academic routes such as the traditional A Level and ‘new’ Diploma. Much of the delivery will be based in schools.

Rebuilding an apprenticeship framework for 14-19 year olds from nothing within schools that have generally focussed on academic subjects will not be easy and may be some reason why at least 13 government quangos such a the Sector Skills Councils (that identify the required competences) to the UK Commission for Education and Skills (that has to find ways of engaging employers) have been created.

So where will IT will be used for these youngsters?

Just a short (and not comprehensive) list:

  • Information and Guidance systems which assess students abilities, provide career and labour market intelligence information and provide the opportunities to record ‘action plans’.
  • Local prospectus systems that identify the opportunitie available within schools

  • Systems that support employers in providing the necessary information for work placements

  • Systems that support the students and their advisors in finding work placements.

  • Tracking systems that monitor the attendance and progress of students at school, college and in work placement

  • Content delivery systems that provide underpinning knowledge in an innovative and interactive way. (Comeback learning objects!)

  • Portfolio systems that store validated students achievements for assessment.

  • Online testing systems for key/ functional skills and the underpinning knowledge for the Technical Certificate

  • Qualification awarding and recording systems that are linked to the Qualification and Credit Framework.

  • Support networks for teachers that provide exemplars of good practice and resources.

  • Systems that ‘feed’ attendance and achievement data to national DCFS collection systems.

  • …..

……….and the challenge for JISC.

Given that the Unique Learner Number will enable infinite opportunities for collation and aggregation, to identify where data standards and the interoperation of systems are required and how privacy and security can be maintained.

As mentioned in earlier blogs, this work will be conducted within a context of government imposed tight delivery deadlines and a commercial provider sector will exploit the open doors to provide quick and profitable solutions.

On a personal note, my apprenticeship is now over and having obtained my qualification for a bus pass, this will be my final blog for CETIS.

I would like thank all those friends within the JISC community that have made my work so satisfying and enjoyable and wish you all success, happiness and good health for the future.

It’s not getting any easier in FE

I visited a large further education college earlier in the week that had just been told that its income allocation from its main provider, the Learning and Skills Council, was to be reduced by £4m for 2008-9: a 20% reduction on their 2007-2008 allocation. We know that from 2010 colleges will be competing with schools for their share of 14-19 budget allocations controlled by the Learning and Skills Council’s successor, the local authorities. For 2008-9 schools will still receive more than colleges for teaching the same courses and many are focussing on developing vocational centres in direct competition with their local college.

For example, in Newark, a new £1.6m ‘Construction Centre’ has just been opened by Ed Balls, the secretary of state for children,schools and families.

Having spent most of my working life in FE and having had to manage challenges in trying to maintain income within ever changing contexts, I have much sympathy for the management within this sector. As ever as a leader within a college, one will look at the use of technology to bring efficiencies and to enable new income streams (such as Train to Gain contracts) to be realised.

In the past over complex tools, lack of data interoperability and most importantly lack of user confidence (and time for familiarisation) meant that investment in IT rarely brought the expected benefits. Recent research from Becta has shown that the use of IT within colleges to enhance teaching and learning was generally dependent on a few enthusiastic champions. Once a beacon college lost its champions the innovative and extensive use of computer based systems usually regressed.

So what is changing?

First of all, there is a rapid increase in the confidence  of academic staff and administrators to use IT. We in our JISC bubble wrongly assumed in the past that our academic colleagues would be happy to use the exciting tools and resources we found and developed for them. I remember at Newark and Sherwood College spending fifteen minutes providing ‘just an overview’ of TOIA, frustrating those colleagues who just wanted a quick and dirty way to produce an online multi-choice test. (They never asked for further details of the various facilities that that tool offered).  

Staff, through their use of a multitude of administration systems, electronic whiteboards and ad-hoc online materials, are now generally confident enough not only to employ technology, but also to dismiss the spurious claims of many a software vendor.

Secondly, interoperability is no longer something that just we in CETIS get excited about, but is a requirement that is increasingly demanded by the users.

“Why cannot I move data from my electronic whiteboard to the VLE?”

“Why do we have to type our students results into a spreadsheet to send to an awarding body?”

“Why do I have to log on to so many systems to process the assessment of a piece of student project work?”

Becta has picked up on this mood and is working with both the existing skills and expectations of the practitioners in the schools and college sectors to provide through such the Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF) a mechanism to satisfy these and similar demands. Purists may whittle on about the inadequacies of SIF but the pragmatists believe that it is good enough, is open to refinement and can immediately bring some savings in the costs of moving data around educational systems.

Thirdly, the need to save money is forcing colleges to merge to form ‘regional centre’s. Regionalisation means that ICT is vital to support monitor and track the performance of distributed student cohorts. Online materials, assessment evidence recording systems and electronic registration are becoming common place for work based learning. Larger colleges have more scope to build on good practice in the use of learning technologies

Fourthly, the provision of online assessment for many a qualification has enabled on demand formative and summative assessment. College income, so dependent on student achievement can be realised earlier and, due to repetitive student practice, with greater confidence.

…and finally, the pending links with local authorities for funding will mean that college administration, information and student guidance systems will become subsumed into developments instigated by such government initiatives as Building Schools for the Future and Every Child Matter and the expectations that SIF can realise.

We are therefore looking at a sector that has been forced to accept technology to support flexible delivery , to compete effectively with private providers for such as Train to Gain and to interoperate effectively with local authority and government information systems.

Staff within FE are hungry for easy to use cost effective tools and interoperability where it can help the bottom line.

Please carry on listening to them.

The challenges that FE now faces may be HEs in the future!

Offender eLearning: an issue of accessibility?

Prompted by my discovery of the Learning and Skills Council funded Offender Learning and Skills Service, I attended a NIACE conference in Bradford at the beginning of the month concerned with e-learning for offenders. Offender learning covers a wide range of institutions from Category A prisons to institutions providing support for non-custodial offenders.

The priority for all custodial institutions is security. Prison governors have tremendous authority and are obviously nervous about the use of the internet and other means of communications, In most institutions CDs and pen drives are banned, necessitating tightly controlled computer networks (where they exist at all).  

The requirements for offender learning in order to assist rehabilitation and a reduction in re-offending are clear.

It has been well publicised that a significant proportion of offenders require basic literacy and numeracy education. Less well known is the need for English as a second language courses. In London 50% of inmates are foreign nationals.

Craft workshops in prisons need to replicate those in the real world and therefore require appropriate technology. Timetabling of traditionally delivered courses can so often be affected by the logistics of prison management. e-Enabled distance learning could offer solutions.  

Many who are near to being released after long sentences need interactive simulations (such as for the use of cash machines) to prepare them for a different kind of world from the one in place when they started their sentence. Employability and the need for inmates to obtain evidence to build positive images of themselves for prospective employers is becoming increasingly important.  

The focus on the need for security, though, means that technological solutions have to be tailored to individual environments within a context of the need for confidence by institutional managers and governors. The picture is somewhat clouded by the role of the private sector who have responsibility for 30% of provision and have strict service level agreements (which currently are unlikely to include elearning) with the Home Office. 

Offender Learning is not just a Learning and Skills Council agenda. It must also be remembered that there are many prisoners studying for Open University degrees and there are other obvious opportunities for HEIs to deliver professional development programmes to an expanding and captive market (sorry!). In an environment where prisoners with Masters degrees are studying level 2 (GCSE) programmes to meet LSC targets, HE should be becoming more engaged. 

There are the seeds of infrastructural developments that are helping.

Within the need for security, some institutions such as Wormwood Scrubs are developing computer equipped learning centres. Learndirect have installed online centres with limited online external assessment facilities that have satisfied the concerns of governors.

The Learner Summary Record is being piloted to provide both on and off line summaries of learning outcomes and results and a record of action planning discussions. This will be linked to the Unique Learner Number and with the permission of the ‘owner’ will be capable of being shared with other agencies once a sentence is completed to enhance employability prospects.  

POLARIS, a VLE service with limitations (no internet links) is being piloted  for a handful of London institutions. Electronic whiteboards that in addition to showing tutor input, also displays the current screens of the students are available to enable the tutor to monitor for inappropriate use. 

So where can JISC help? 

There is a promise of government activity in this area and our advice will be sought. 

A few suggestions: 

Firstly we should recognise that there are many prospective HE students within our prisons and offender institutions.

Secondly we should look  at tailoring those (often JISC funded) technological mainstream solutions that satisfy both prison governor’s needs for security and the offender’s needs for learning and future employability. Systems that will enable national services that can provide only the  ‘approved’ URLs that can be accessed by inmates; tools that more effectively monitor computer usage; the provision of appropriate learning simulations and interactions and the provision of secure information and guidance services linked to employment are just a few ideas for consideration. There must be many more.

Finally, should we not be expanding our accessibility agenda to include offenders within our penal system?

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

Clive 1st June 2007

It has been some times since I ‘blogged’

Since I last ‘put fingers to keyboard’ I have been boring folk with my view that over the last year the ‘centre of gravity’ of learning technology standards developments have moved to the schools and FE sectors from HE. Driven by the e-Strategy and other governemnt schools based agendas such as ‘Every Child Matters’, Becta, MIAP and others have been obliged to deliver solutions. to strictly imposed deadlines. The focus so far has been in two areas: joining social service systems up with school administration systems and learning platforms for schools. Both have required standards based developments: the Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF) underpinned by the adoption of a Unique learner Number (ULN) has been adopted for the former and Becta has produced specifications (all around standards and extendability) that suppliers of learning platforms have to satisfy. Additionally, the Qualification and Curriculum Authority, in order to meet the requirements of the new vocational Specilaised Diploma will have to produce data standards by the Autumn for course details and qualification achievements.

Obviously such developments will have an impact for the JISC communities. Firstly, there will be a concentration  of minds around where standards are really needed (rather than ‘could be useful’) and there will be a requirement for JISC to focus on those areas of detail which could impede national projects if not attended to. Solutions to the problems of Identity Management and the scalability of SOA implementations are just two that need urgent attention.

So to survive , JISC has to be sufficiently engaged in influencing and engaging with learning technology based solutions in the schools and tertiary sector in order to anticpate those areas that need the efforts and expertise of our community?

So what have I been doing for my one day per week in addition to boring my colleagues at mangement meetings with the above?

Well I have been supportng Peter with ePortfolio develovepment (around assessment) and with the help of Nottingham University finding out about Lifelong Learning Networks, 

Clive 2/2/07 -9/2/07

This Week

  • Visit to OU to discuss Moddle developments
  • Discussion Rowin: input on new DfES developments for vocational eductaion at assessment SIG
  • Agreement to support Lisa with DEL work (Diana Laurillard)
  • Conference Call: Eportfolios with Simon, Helen, Peter, Lisa Gray and Sarah Davies

Issues from OU visit

  • Moodle scalable and working well (including links to databases and rights management)
  • Developments driven by ‘buisess needs’. Standards only applied where appropriate (assessment not a bigp riority)
  • SOA approach only applied at the micro level (too risky at higher levels)
  • Moodle becoming more rugged (partly due to contribution from OU of open source solutions)

Issues Conference call

  • LEAP2 needs wider community
  • JISC developments needed to be rooted in the national agenda (e.g. QCF, new Diplomas)

Next Week

  • Visit to OU with Becta (ePortfolios)