Further education and the learning lost by students in the FE sector because of the coronavirus pandemic remains a government focus as institutions open their doors to more students, the apprenticeships and skills minister has said.
Answering the sector's questions in a Tes #AskTheMinister session today, Gillian Keegan said the government was mindful of the specific nature of further education provision, both in terms of reopening for face to face learning and looking ahead to the coming months.
"We have done a lot of work with the sector, they come at it with a specific lens of FE, and it does have some differences, like the scale and the different courses, and that has been right at the heart of all the discussions we have had," the minister said.
The specific needs of colleges and other FE institutions had informed the government's decision-making "right the way up" to chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and other health experts, Ms Keegan added. "The guidance has been very much tailored as much as possible and we have given a lot of flexibility to colleges as well."
She thanked leaders and teaching and support staff in FE institutions for the work they have done preparing for the wider opening. "It looks like, based on the figures that we have, that it has been an amazing success. All the hard work has paid off. And it is not just a thank you from me – the students are really excited to be back," the minister added.
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Ms Keegan said that, although general media coverage on lost learning in schools had dominated, this did not mean the government was not focused on mitigating the impact of that on students in FE: "It is pretty much all I spend most of my day doing," she said, adding that the government had met with sector representatives to get their input.
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"Of course, we have got [education recovery commissioner] Sir Kevan Collins, who we've spent a fair bit of time with, making sure he really understands FE and the distinct nature of aspects of FE. It is a key government priority, this catching up of lost learning. There is very much an understanding of practical subjects, people who have lost the ability to practise and to use the equipment. There is very much an understanding of the cohort, the type of people that come to FE colleges. Obviously, there is the Tuition Fund, and then Sir Kevan Collins is looking at the longer term, what happens after September and what other things we should be looking at.
"In some ways, we are also thinking about things like where do you get the extra time from, and that is maybe potentially why it is not so much covered in the press, because in some ways that is less of an issue in FE. The students don't tend to be nine to five, five days a week, so there is a bit o time that can be made more use of in the working day. We spend a lot of time focusing on it – it is a government priority – and we very much recognise the specificities of FE and we work to make sure the flexibility is there, because colleges know their students best."