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Leadership - Build bridges to the big wide world

By forging links with colleges, schools can broaden their own and students' horizons

By forging links with colleges, schools can broaden their own and students' horizons

Traditionally, secondary schools and colleges of further education have been regarded as separate and very different entities. And yet more and more schools are adding sixth forms, blurring the line between the two. From this term, too, further education colleges in the UK can enrol 14- to 16-year-old students, muddying the waters further.

Schools and colleges do have different strengths, skills, knowledge and contacts, but these are the things that should be drawing them closer together rather than keeping them apart. School leaders should forge connections, finding out what their institutions can learn from FE colleges and how teachers and lecturers could benefit from closer working relationships. The following are some of the areas they could address.

Soft skills

One of the aims of FE colleges is to prepare young people for productive, rewarding employment in a modern economy. The emphasis in this transition is increasingly on the development of "soft skills" rather than academic or technical knowledge. Employers expect recruits to arrive with a positive attitude, be able to work in teams and show initiative. Manchester College, based in that city, is among the FE colleges that have been pioneering curricula focused on these skills. This is work that schools can also carry out, in collaboration with the FE sector.

Business partnerships

Schools can learn from the ways in which colleges engage with employers. Whether it is through governing bodies, consultative forums or direct relationships, a key characteristic of the FE sector is its willingness to engage in flexible, creative partnerships with the business world. It is experienced at bringing together the worlds of work and education, using workshops, visits to companies, employer-led activities and work placements and internships. School leaders should seek partnerships with local FE colleges to exploit contacts already in place.

Global context

Schools often limit themselves to a UK-only view, whereas FE colleges tend to have a wider perspective. Not only do they recruit students internationally, but they also bring on board global companies and industries to deliver training programmes, be it in person or via e- learning.

FE colleges also twin with schools, colleges, businesses and institutions around the world, as well as setting up joint educational programmes and student exchanges. School leaders could learn the how and why of working internationally from FE colleges.


Historically, schoolteachers and FE lecturers rarely meet. However, online communities such as Twitter, TES forums and shared resources from the likes of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers union encourage the free exchange of research, evidence and experience. School leaders should aim to facilitate these contacts as much as possible, at the same time as ensuring that they, too, forge connections with their opposite numbers in FE.

Of course, this should not be a one-way street: FE colleges have as much to learn from schools as schools have from them. But, by being the first to build the bridge, school leaders can begin that collaborative process.

Rosie Beach and Glenys Hart are independent education consultants who have worked with schools, FE colleges and universities

In short

  • FE colleges and schools have more to learn from each other than ever before and should be looking to build closer working relationships.
  • In terms of getting students ready for the world of work, schools can learn from FE colleges how to link with businesses and provide soft skills training.
  • They can also learn how to formulate productive global relationships.
  • Closer working relationships across the sectors can provide continuing professional development benefits and a more joined-up approach to post-14 education.

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