Five reasons FE will never be the same again

These uncertain times could lead to real and necessary change for FE - we shouldn't be so quick to rush back to 'normal', writes Stuart Rimmer

Stuart Rimmer

Covid-19: 5 ways FE will change forever

The world undoubtedly has changed for ever and it is therefore sensible to assume that this could be applied to our own sector. There is a quote circulating from lifestyle guru, Dave Hollis “in the rush to return to normal, consider which parts are worth rushing back to”. If we could create a new normal in FE what should that look like?

The legacy of working from home

Staff working from home might be struggling to adapt in the first instance with the blending of work and home life and fast technology adoption but after a period of six months or more, I predict an evolution may occur.

The public sector has been slow to adapt to the benefits of some home working and supporting both the technology and HR practice to enable this shift. Reintroducing staff to cramped and noisy college offices, desk sharing and paper producing offices may be difficult and unhelpful. The social benefits of face-to-face are undoubted but the legacy of Covid-19 home working might reveal lasting benefits in breaking the flexible working debate. 


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Victorian pedagogy is a broken model

We have accidentally stumbled into the largest pedagogical experiment in digitally driven distance learning the world has seen. It’s untested as to the outcome but the colleges have made more progress in five weeks in moving to digital platforms than in five (probably 15) years. As necessity is the mother of invention, so we are witnessing teacher’s creativity flourishing in new media.

Every experiment won’t have a lasting consequence but staff adaption might make some elements stick. There are emerging opportunities for nationally devised media development to support learning and potential liberation of the teacher to become more than producer into a space of co-collaborator.

Students should demand new approaches to learning and may well call for better learning, online submission, digital resources of higher quality, at a time they want, in a place they want and could easily reject the return to a Victorian classroom set up evident in box classrooms everywhere.

Sector leadership requires radical rethink

Never so starkly has the incongruence between representative bodies been apparent than in this crisis. A cacophony of voices struggles for ministerial air time.

A strong sector should now coalesce under a single representative body – institutions (that pay the fees) could make this happen if they desired. Specific and specialist lobbying feels a distractive activity, self-aggrandising and unnecessary. A new organisation should be rapidly formed with the sole purpose of ensuring strong sector cross-age range, cross funding for post-16 education and skills and creating powerful national and inclusive dialogue that we can all rally around.   

Reappraisal of key job roles

This crisis has rapidly brought a nation a sharp and rapid appreciation of what "key worker" really means. The van driver, the care worker, the cleaner, and retail assistant can sit proudly alongside nurses, teachers, doctors and hallowed engineers. An obsession with Stem in the last few years have left behind, intentionally through government focus and policy, enforced by LEPs, de-valued front line jobs. Now creates an opportunity to reappraise skills required, value expressed in pay and their place in the skills eco-system of all roles that make up a 21st-century workforce.  

Colleges are proven community assets 

Cometh the hour cometh the man. In every community up and down the country the first place local councils, hospitals, volunteering organisations all went to were colleges. The first organisations to mobilise supporting food banks, getting student volunteers out, sharing PPE, cooking for vulnerable groups, stepping forward to local business, and making arrangements to support the health system were colleges. 

Politically schools and universities have often hogged the limelight (and funding) but at a time of crisis, the government relies on colleges, armed with practically creative people who deliver without fuss nor demanding favours. Our communities love our colleges in making, shaping and supporting place – this should be enduring.

There will be a million changes that may hold lasting effects in socio-economics, approaches to sustainability, delivery of education or the very fabric of communities as we come together to discover our new normal.

In doing so I very much hope we take time to reflect deeply and consider what normal we wish to rush back to. What would be in your top five?

Stuart Rimmer is CEO at East Coast College

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