How to put collaboration at the heart of FE

Don't work in a silo: there are opportunities to collaborate with colleagues inside and outside FE, says Lindsey Johnson

Lindsey Johnson

What can colleges do to ensure they are truly embedded in their local communities?

Everyone wants their college to be recognised as the community hub of their town or city – a welcoming place where people from all walks of life gather and learn. But how do we ensure that people in the community know that we are there for them? And perhaps more importantly, how do we know that what we are offering genuinely meets their needs?

Actively engaging with a diverse cross section of the community is the way forward. Encouraging meaningful and ongoing conversations with the people we serve allows us to learn how to make sure that the best-quality education and support is on their doorstep. It’s not just about telling people what they need to do to progress in education, it’s about asking what the future they hope for looks like and then working out the steps towards that future. It’s about working together.

More on this: Why colleges are so much more than a 'second-chance saloon'

Opinion: 'Colleges need to cement their role in serving local communities'

Read more: 'Colleges should behave like social enterprises'

Collaboration doesn't end in the conversation between college and stakeholder, or more personally, between student and teacher. Actively pursuing dialogue with sector colleagues from around the UK helps to ensure we all get it right – that the quality of the sector is continually on the rise and we support each other to give the best opportunities to every person who walks through the door

Here are a few ideas on how to ensure that you place yourself at the forefront of the community and FE sector.

What can you do?

  1. Understand the measures against which FE is held. This might be national achievement-rate tables, Ofsted learner views and FE Choices. Do everything in your power to ensure that you provide the best-quality education and training for your students. If you look after your students and support them well, the results will look after themselves.
  2. Keep in mind your region’s skills agenda, to ensure you provide training for students to fill the future skill gaps in your area. Cultivate strong relationships with local employers who will support your curriculum development and delivery. At The Manchester College, we have more than 1,000 employers offering work placements to our students and we are the first college in the country to co-create employer-sponsored programmes in direct partnership with our employer partners. It’s a brilliant way of creating the links students need.
  3. Play an active part in national campaigns that promote our sector, such as the Association of Colleges' #LoveOurColleges week or the Learning and Work Institute’s Festival of Learning. They are great opportunities to shine a light on the brilliant work we all do.
  4. Be proactive in seeking ways to place yourself at the forefront of innovation. Look out for pilots and projects to be part of that inform the "next big thing" in education. Learning from each other and making cross-sector contacts can lay the groundwork for interesting and valuable collaborations that benefit us all.
  5. Offer opportunities for staff to upskill and network with other practitioners. For example, we are hosting a national conference on Saturday 15 June, created by FE practitioners, for FE practitioners. The UKFEchat Conference 2019 will bring together like-minded FE folk from around the country to share ideas, create new work and learn from more than 30 experts in the field. The themes covered include: behaviour and attitudes, personal development, research and pedagogy, English, and maths.

Come and join us for a great day of FE. Let’s continue the conversation. For tickets, visit

Lindsey Johnson is vice principal for the curriculum and support at The Manchester College

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