25th March 2016 at 00:00
Exceedingly good hosts

Crumbs of knowledge

The Freedom of Information (FoI) Act is a piece of legislation that has divided commentators like no other.

For every genuine scoop it has unearthed, dozens more weird and wonderful queries have been churned out, covering everything from Rossendale Council’s expenditure on exorcisms for animals to the measures in place to protect Wigan from dragon attack (true story).

But if nothing else, the responses that FoI requests elicit offer an intriguing insight into the prevailing mentality behind public institutions. A recent investigation for the Scottish edition of TES by FErret’s cousin is a case in point.

McFErret submitted a request to Scottish colleges asking for the amount of money they had spent on entertaining guests during the past two years.

It will come as little surprise to regular readers that City of Glasgow College (of lavish £33,000 campus opening-ceremony fame) topped the table with an overall spend of £157,403.

But it was a college at the other end of the spectrum that caught FErret’s eye. Among the 13 institutions claiming that no money was spent was Ayrshire College.

Its response read: “The principal does have guests and visitors at the college campuses and will offer them hospitality in the form of tea and biscuits or cakes if the students have been baking.” The charming and earnest attention to detail is enough to bring a tear to one’s eye.

Cache out

While the willingness of the FE sector to embrace cutting-edge technology has been mixed, the appetite for harnessing the possibilities afforded by ed tech is clearly building. Interest in new forms of teaching and learning is high, with the expansion of Heart of Worcestershire College’s Blended Learning Consortium acting as a good example of what can be achieved.

It was laudable, then, that the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) earlier this month agreed to offer a webinar on its review of funding for online/blended learning.

Unsurprisingly, interest was high, with plenty of viewers registered and eagerly awaiting nuggets of wisdom from the SFA’s policy implementation manager, Steve Nicholls.

But the nuggets failed to emerge. The reason? The SFA’s IT system blocked him from accessing the webinar that he was supposed to be presenting.

Perhaps the digital future is further away than we thought.

Blended earning

On the issue of technology, one of the papers circulated to the area review advisory groups earlier this month warned that not everyone in the sector was as clued up as they should be on our brave new digital world.

“It was clear from the wave 1 and 2 meetings that colleges and advisers alike did not have a complete understanding of how colleges might make best use of technology,” it explained.

Accordingly, the government-funded technology organisation for FE and higher education, the slightly embarrassingly named Jisc, put together a list of “the top 10 technology services they would expect an efficient and effective college to use”. No pressure then.

And this helpful list also helpfully included commercial suppliers for these supposedly must-have services. And helpfully enough, for eight out of these top 10 services needed by colleges, the first organisation listed was Jisc. How helpful of them.

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