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Colleges 'should lead the way on new policies'

Colleges' strong reputation with employers and other partners means they are ideally placed, says Scottish principal

colleges scotland innovation leadership

Colleges' strong reputation with employers and other partners means they are ideally placed, says Scottish principal

Colleges need to be confident enough to take the lead on implementing new government policies, one college principal has said.

Speaking at the first College Development Network Expo in Edinburgh, Ken Thomson, principal of Forth Valley College, said colleges had the reputation to play a stronger role in rolling out new initiatives and realising government priorities.

At his own college, changes to the way courses were delivered a few years ago had meant that teaching staff had more freedom to take innovative approaches, increase cooperation between departments and deliver more project-based learning. This has, in turn, allowed them to become a much stronger partner for large local and regional employers. 

“We needed the support from the Scottish Qualificatons Authority for that, but they said, ‘Just do it,'” explained Thomson. He stressed that this meant having confidence in teaching staff to be creative while still delivering the qualifications employers expect.

Award-winning curriculum reform

The work led to the college winning the 2016 Tes FE Award for the best learning and teaching initiative, with projects including the sports department delivering warm-up sessions for the construction department – something employers in the industry were then keen to take on, making the college the driver of innovation.

Other projects facilitated by the new curriculum included launching a Raspberry Pi computer into space on a hydrogen balloon, and media and engineering students making a film about 3D printing. “What student can say they have launched a hydrogen balloon, getting to almost 3,000ft? That is what sets you apart,” said Thomson.

The new approach to the curriculum also meant that the college was in a stronger position to engage with employers, said Thomson. With a strong reputation, his and other further education colleges should now be in the driving seat of implementing government policy, he argued.

“Colleges have a strong reputation and that is what we have got to successfully build on," Thomson said. He added that the Scottish government’s Learner Journey Review, which considered the routes available to 15- to 24-year-olds in the education system and was published last month, was one of those opportunities for colleges to take the lead.

Careers advice and articulation arrangements between schools and colleges  – which allow college students to move straight into the second or third year of a degree – were other such areas.

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