2021: Four priorities for FE in the new year

The sector must prioritise funding, mental health, training and recruitment, and remote learning, says Jonny Kay
6th December 2020, 9:00am
Jonny Kay

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2021: Four priorities for FE in the new year

https://www.tes.com/magazine/news/secondary/2021-four-priorities-fe-new-year
2021: Four Priorities For Fe

As national lockdown comes to an end, and regions continue to grapple with the tier system, many are wondering when we will once again be able to get back to anything like "normal".

With 2020 and the pandemic changing every facet of life, education has seen the biggest changes in living memory. Teachers, leaders, students and parents/carers were able to move fully online within a matter of weeks; GCSEs were on, then off (and other qualifications followed suit); new vocabulary and events burst into the public consciousness (furlough, lockdown, daily briefing…). It's been some year.


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So, with the clock ticking down on 2020, and many glad to see the back of it, what are the priorities that need the most attention in 2021 in further education?

Back to 'normal', but with tweaks

As much as the outstanding teachers in FE have defied the odds and moved seamlessly to online and remote learning (after some initial hiccups), there is a sense that we're biding our time before we can return to full-time classroom teaching. As effective as online learning has been, it doesn't offer the same opportunities to build relationships with students or the same satisfaction when students achieve. With recent announcements of vaccine breakthroughs, getting somewhere near normal looks a real possibility in 2021.

This being said, there is much that we can continue to do. Online and remote learning is surely here to stay and there are calls from many within the sector to continue with the catch-up funding that has been earmarked for students continuing English and maths in post-16 education. There are calls too for increased funding in tech, which leads neatly on to…

Funding

Not for the first time, and certainly not the last, the pleas and calls for additional funding have been louder and longer than ever. Though the catch-up funding has been welcomed, there are many who feel more is needed, in all areas of further education.

With no additional long term funding available for English and maths, and additional strain set to be put on post-16 education in a post-Brexit landscape, funding in all areas of FE will be required to allow the sector to catch up after a decade of underfunding. This is before considering what resources will be required to allow the sector to thrive to the levels needed.

Tech funding must surely have jumped to the front of the queue for funding, and it remains to be seen how the sector, leaders, practitioners and students will integrate newfound gains in tech effectiveness.

Supporting student mental health

Though thoughts turn to a brighter year in 2021, there will remain hangovers from 2020. One of those is the impact on mental health and wellbeing and how it must be supported in future. With many suffering the mental health fallout of the pandemic, the impact on students has been immense, and there must be additional support in 2021 for those worst affected.

Whether this comes in the form of directly funding schools and colleges, supporting existing organisations, or even creating new organisations to deal with the unique mental health and wellbeing challenges of Covid, we must ensure that, in 2021, students (and staff) are fully supported.

Training and recruitment

Receiving much press attention, recruitment in future school teachers is at record highs. Surely, the time is right to use this opportunity to promote and celebrate FE to identify the lecturers and practitioners of tomorrow? With FE and post-16 feeling like a second thought at times during the pandemic, an effective marketing and recruitment campaign could represent a once in a generation opportunity to support shortage subjects.

Jonny Kay is the head of teaching and learning at a college in the North East. He tweets at @jonnykayteacher

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