It may have been uttered south of the border, but it was an interesting suggestion nonetheless. Speaking at a TES round table in London last week, Association of Colleges’ president Ian Ashman proposed that every trainee teacher, regardless of where they want to end up teaching, should be offered a placement in a further education college as part of their training.
This, he said, could help to tackle the recruitment crisis blighting the English FE sector, particularly with regards to the lack of qualified maths and English teachers. While the idea is, therefore, specifically tailored for the English sector, that does not mean it is not one worth contemplating in Scotland, too. The reasoning is, of course, that teachers would get a clearer idea of what working in a college is actually like, and as a result more would consider a career teaching in FE. Mr Ashman’s belief, which I share, is that the inspirational, life-changing work that goes on in colleges – but that rarely makes the headlines – would penetrate the hearts of some of those aspiring educators, and bring them back once they are qualified.
But actually, there is another reason why I wish teachers – along with other groups that influence the views and decisions of Scotland’s young people – could spend time in colleges. Few of those who see the work that colleges do close-up will come out completely unaffected. At the very least, they will understand colleges much better. And getting a clearer understanding of the opportunities that colleges offer – from access-level courses to higher education and apprenticeship training – is absolutely crucial, especially if we want to raise the profile of FE and the role it plays for the Scottish economy and society.
So I was pleased last week to attend the 15th anniversary event for the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework at the Scottish Parliament. It is an essential tool to make sure learners receive the appropriate credit for the work they do – regardless of where they do it.
Colleges are more than just places you go to if other institutions don’t suit you
But there is something about our language that needs to change, too – about the way we think of routes through education into work. And that goes beyond the sort of phrases we often hear about FE, and which I have long thought of as very unhelpful – whether it is the “Cinderella sector” or the “unloved middle child”.
When we talk about the opportunities that colleges provide, how often do we do so in the context of learners who struggled or encountered issues while pursuing another route? Of course, this is an important part of the role that colleges play, but they are more than just places you go to if other kinds of institution don’t suit you.
Sometimes, it is about tiny nuances in language. There were hints of this at the SCQF event last week. While FE, HE and science minister Shirley-Anne Somerville said that we had to realise that “our traditional view of what the learner journey is…doesn’t work for certain demographics of the population”, SCQF chair Rob Wallen – who recently retired as principal of North East Scotland College – talked about the huge variety of routes available. The SCQF helped to ensure that the qualifications framework wasn’t “dominated by one part of the education system”, he said.
So surely, there must be something in Mr Ashman’s idea. What better way could there be to truly understand what colleges do than spending some time witnessing it first-hand? Or if that proves too much to ask, getting all new teachers to at the very least talk to a current college student, or someone who teaches in FE, surely isn’t.