The FE news blog

The FE Focus news blog, updating you on all the news and analysis from the world of colleges

The FE Guild is born, only it's called the Education and Training Foundation - 01 August 2013

Almost a year ago, the idea of an FE Guild was first mooted by former skills minister John Hayes.

The politician in the hot seat may have changed and - following a painstaking consultation - the name may be different, but today his vision came to pass as the Education and Training Foundation (ETF) was launched at the Goldsmiths' Centre in London.

And the early signs look promising. Interim chair David Hughes has already received a grant letter from current further education (FE) minister Matthew Hancock, confirming pound;18 million in funding for the project and outlining its remit and responsibilities.

The ETF, the letter said, "provides a new approach to self-improvement in the FE and skills sector", and is tasked with delivering a "well-qualified, effective and up-to-date professional workforce, supported by good leadership, management and governance".

Mr Hughes stressed that the foundation will support struggling colleges and providers, as well as providing support for those rated good and outstanding by Ofsted.

There was more good news for a number of former employees of the now-defunct Learning and Skills Improvement Service - which formally closed yesterday - who have taken up new positions at the ETF.

Interim chief executive Sir Geoff Hall said: "The high quality of our post-16 education and training provision is ever more vital as we enter a new period of economic recovery, and the standards we aim for are world class.

"With a focus on workforce professionalism and continuous improvement, the job of this new foundation is to ensure that education and training providers understand and meet the needs of businesses and communities, and have the most effective and best-equipped workforce in place.

"We want every learner and every trainee to get maximum benefit from their experience and we want every practitioner to benefit from effective and impactful [continuing professional development] opportunities.

"Our priorities are to improve learner experience and outcomes, to enhance the reputation of the sector, to develop provider good practice, to make the sector an attractive place to join and work, and to promote and champion equality and diversity across the sector."

The first task of the ETF will be to appoint a permanent chief executive and chair. Mr Hughes told TES he is optimistic about attracting big names from the sector to the posts and hopes to be able to make an announcement in the coming weeks.

Stephen Exley

Industry experts urged to go back to the classroom to pass on their skills - 30 July 2013

Should industry professionals in England be seconded to FE colleges to train and support vocational students?

That's the suggestion from think-tank
CentreForum, which says a national scheme of this type would deepen relationships between colleges and employers and dramatically improve the quality of vocational teaching.

In a new report, it argues that secondments for a day a week would help narrow the gap between college-based learning and apprenticeships.

The idea draws on the experience of educational charity Teach First - which has strong links with industry - and the findings of the Commission on Adult Vocational Teaching and Learning.

The report -
Train Too: industry secondments into Further Education - praises the Coalition's apprenticeships drive but points out that many learners currently rely entirely on FE colleges for their vocational education.

At present only around 11 per cent of FE teaching staff at FE colleges work in their chosen profession, and there is a "dangerous gap" between how the sector, industry and learners perceive the employment market, it warns.

Report co-author James Kempton said: "We all know we don't do enough to prepare people for work properly. Putting more industry experts in FE classrooms will transform vocational learning, offering up to date knowledge and inspiring real life experience. Colleges are desperate to work with industry in this way."

The report has been praised by professor Alison Wolf, who led the groundbreaking Wolf Review into vocational education.

"This report offers practical and excellent ideas for improving the quality of vocational education in this country," she said. "Creating and expanding these links is a priority but also a major challenge for colleges and governments."

Professor Wolf said she hoped the findings would be welcomed across the political spectrum and translated into official policy.

A spokesman for Teach First said: "A future where this unique secondment scheme could support increasing numbers of professionals to teach for up to one academic year should be applauded for both its ambition and collaborative approach across education and business."

Darren Evans

"What's an apprenticeship, mum?" Most parents don't know the answer - 25 July 2013

Apprenticeships may be a central plank of the government's jobs policy, but new research reveals that many parents don't understand them or what they can offer their children.

The Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) polled more than 1,000 members of parenting website Netmums and found a general lack of understanding and even misconceptions about apprenticeships.

Nearly two-thirds of parents said that they couldn't explain apprenticeships to their child, while 80 per cent did not know a higher apprenticeship is the same level of qualification as a degree, and nearly three-quarters misjudged how much lifetime earnings are boosted by doing a higher apprenticeship.

Most worryingly, old-fashioned misconceptions persisted; nearly half of parents believed that they are geared more towards boys than girls, almost a third believed they are for those less academically-able, and the majority believed they are only available in manual jobs.

Despite the government's aims for its apprenticeships programme, a third of parents did not believe that apprenticeships would become as normal for young people as going to university.

AAT chief executive Jane Scott-Paul told TES: "Apprenticeships have had a bit of a poor deal over the past 20 years, mainly due to the decline of industry and the push to get as many young people into university as possible.

"If we are to target the tragic situation of young people coming out of school and not being able to find employment, then apprenticeships have to be much more visible and we need to give practical, down to earth information about what they are."

The AAT is calling for the re-education of parents so apprenticeships are considered as viable first choice options alongside university and academic qualifications.

Ms Scott-Paul said that a national conversation about the value of apprenticeships could be achieved through social media.

"We have young people who are concerned about their futures and the burden of debt and are looking for other career options. We need to put information about apprenticeships in front of them and their parents so they realise those other options are available."

Darren Evans

Apprenticeship funding proposals get mixed reception - 24 July 2013

Colleges and training providers have expressed serious concerns over plans to change the way apprenticeships are funded to put "businesses in the driving seat".

Business secretary Vince Cable today announced that employers could be funded directly to purchase the apprenticeship training they want. But Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, warned that substantial changes to funding risked disruption when the focus should be on delivery.

"There have already been a huge number of funding changes in the skills sector and I question the need to make further significant changes to apprenticeship funding in the middle of a recession with youth unemployment at an all-time high," he said.

The government is consulting on reforms proposed in the Richard review of apprenticeships, published in November 2012.

It is considering three options: the direct payment model, where employers receive the funding directly and then pay it to providers; a PAYE model, where businesses recover funding through the pay as you earn system; and a provider payment model, where providers can access government funding only after employers have paid their contribution to the price of training.

However, it is also welcoming alternative suggestions.

But Mr Doel said that what may be seen as a "seductively simple" concept could be more difficult to put into action, adding: "If the objective is to increase employer involvement in shaping apprenticeships, there could be many other incremental changes that could deliver this outcome."

The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) also has "serious doubts". It said that all the proposals would require new systems of funding, inspection, assessment and compliance and would be "in no way" a simplification of the existing system.

"The AELP is particularly concerned that the proposal could have a negative impact on the quality of programmes when the whole thrust of recent government-sponsored reviews of apprenticeships has focused on driving improvements in quality," a spokesman said.

However, Dr Adam Marshall, policy director at the British Chambers of Commerce, said that apprenticeship funding should go directly to employers. "Instead of the public sector doling out cash to training providers, we want to see funding follow employers, who are best placed to identify what skills are going to be most beneficial to their business," he said.

Mr Cable also argued that employers are the best people to judge what training is worth investing in. "It gives them the power to train their staff to make sure their skills are relevant to the company, while choosing from the wide range of courses available," he said.

As well as consulting on long-term measures to reform apprenticeships, the government said that it would also be taking action in the shorter term to make it easier for companies to take on an apprentice.

It announced that companies with 1,000 employees or fewer can take advantage of a pound;1,500 apprenticeship grant for employers for another year, which it claimed would help small and medium-sized business to take on an additional 35,000 young apprentices.

Recent figures show that almost 30,000 young people have been taken on under the current grant.

The consultation will run for the next 10 weeks.

Darren Evans

PR departments whither as budget cuts begin to bite - 22 July 2013

Colleges in England are failing to realise the importance of good public relations and the need for strong communications departments, according to a new study from the Association of Colleges (AoC).

The AoC surveyed marketing, communications and PR staff at more than 100 colleges and found that most teams had experienced budget and personnel cuts in recent years. It also found a lack of qualifications at the top, with less than a third of respondents saying that their head of PR has a relevant qualification.

As a result, the study says that PR is not always at the top table: the head of PR is on the senior management team in only half of colleges.

Marketing dominates communications activity, with nine out of 10 respondents saying that they spend most of their time on areas such as events and branding. Respondents claimed that there are often skills shortages in vital areas including reputation, crisis and issues management.

Ben Verinder, communications director at the AoC, said the apparent lack of progress comes at a time when professional communications is likely to grow in importance for colleges, which will need to communicate across a growing network of campuses, build new relationships with businesses and improve relationships with schools and other organisations.

Mr Verinder said that PR staff think their role is vital to help colleges manage their reputations, promote qualifications and control difficult public situations. But he added: "The results of this study suggest that a large number of senior teams do not quite see it that way.

"The challenge for public relations practitioners within colleges is to demonstrate how the function can support the core business of any college: providing high-quality teaching to a community."

Darren Evans

The traineeship programme gets major boost - 17 July 2013

The government's traineeships programme received a boost today with the backing of some of the country's biggest employers.

Banking giant HSBC, communications firms BT and Virgin Media and car manufacturers General Motors and Mercedes-Benz are among more than 100 businesses across the country lending their support.

Skills Minister Matthew Hancock said he was "delighted" so many had come on board.

"I now want to urge more employers, no matter what size, to sign up to the programme and make the most of the talents of our young people," he said.

The government is publishing a delivery framework today setting out exactly how the programme will work.

Traineeships will be available from August and will offer a package of training and work experience to give people the skills and confidence to get a job or an apprenticeship.

They will offer training in English, mathematics and work preparation as well as high-quality work experience placements.

Traineeships for 16- to 19-year-olds were announced in May, and the programme was extended up to age 24 in the spending review in June.

The demand for traineeships is clearly growing among employers who offer apprenticeships, with many struggling to find quality candidates to fill vacancies.

Helen Taylor, who runs Mercedes-Benz's apprenticeship programme, said that despite having a large number of applicants there are some vacancies they cannot fill.

"Many of those candidates would have benefited from a vocational programme such as a traineeship, giving them the confidence plus some experience to demonstrate they are ready to make the move from education to employment," she said.

Adam Marshall, policy director at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "The combination of literacy, numeracy, and real work experience in the traineeships framework will help to bridge this gap and enable many more motivated young people to meet employers' standards."

But there are some concerns. Toni Fazaeli, chief executive of the Institute for Learning, said the success of traineeships will depend on high-quality teaching and learning, delivered by qualified teachers and trainers.

And Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said there are questions as to how widespread the offer will be for candidates in the older age group, and raised fears that benefits rules may prevent some young people accessing a traineeship.

Strike action looms into view as UCU rejects FE pay offer - 17 July 2013

The University and College Union (UCU) is set to reject a pay offer for FE staff and ballot its members for strike action, the TES can reveal.

The Association of Colleges settled on a final offer of a 0.7 per cent pay increase last month after the joint trade unions rejected a previous offer of 0.5 per cent. The unions had demanded 5 per cent.

But the UCU's FE committee has decided that offer is unacceptable. A spokesman said: "Branches will meet when staff are back in September to consider the committee's recommendation to reject the offer and move towards a ballot for industrial action."

This causes a potential problem for the other unions, which are still mulling over the offer, as the AoC wants to implement the increase in August.

Unite and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers are both consulting as many of their members as possible until the end of the month, with ATL agreeing "reluctantly" to recommend the deal as being the best achievable through negotiation.

Emma Mason, the AoC's director of employment, said it was "disappointed" by UCU's decision. "Their approach undermines the credibility of the agreement reached through the national joint forum. It is particularly disappointing at a time when the AoC is due to consult with its members about the future of national negotiations."

If the unions do not all agree on the final settlement then the AoC has indicated a majority decision will be accepted, meaning UCU members could well find themselves alone on the picket line and out in the cold over future pay talks.

Darren Evans

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