The pursuit of relevance in FE is an important one, especially in regards to vocational training. By it’s nature, voc-ed is focused on a very particular outcome, and, unlike in other sectors that cast a broader net in regard to subject and area, having the defined goal of a job as the endpoint of all means that making education relevant for the students is desirable, perhaps even essential.
Ensuring students are given something that is useful, something they can take with them that allows them to be able to carry out the duties that their chosen profession requires to a high standard, is an absolute no-brainer. It enables them to excel in their roles, thereby helping themselves and, in a huge majority of cases, society at large.
Making sure that what we are teaching is current, up-to-date and can be applied in their place of work is also incredibly important, as is stripping away anything that doesn’t really apply. Our students deserve more than pointless time-filling activities or generic materials that don’t go towards achieving their goals. They need learning that is targeted and not simply there to tick a box. They need training that is relevant to the job that they will do. They need to not have their time wasted.
An ethos of relevance is undoubtedly a positive one when it comes to FE. So why is it, when I talk to fellow practitioners up and down the country, that it’s often the case that the focus on relevance in training for students doesn’t always extend to staff training and CPD? I’ve heard too many stories of training days and courses that are hugely generic, uninteresting and irrelevant to specific job roles (yet still require mandatory attendance). Training that pays mere lip-service to actual improvement and makes no attempt to broaden the mind and improve practice, but merely ticks a box (or completes a mind-map on a flip chart, or sticks a Post-it note somewhere, just because). I’ve had reports in colleges from staff who’ve sacrificed time (and, in some cases, money) to be included in courses that do the bare minimum of what is described and promised.
We wouldn’t expect students to put up with it – staff shouldn't either.
I’m well aware of some of the problems faced by colleges in this regard. Training days in large organisations can be a logistical nightmare and it would be incredibly difficult to offer the perfect course for every individual member of staff. High-calibre training can also come at a high monetary cost. However, there are things that can be done that will allow staff to gain essential value and improve relevance for all.
There are colleges that have a consultation period before training in an attempt to gain insight and feedback as to what is really needed. Some offer a range of courses during periods of training so that a system of "best fit" can be embarked upon. Others allow staff to seek out their own training and have systems that help in doing this.
Ensuring relevance in training is beneficial not just for the learners but for those that guide them. It’s a reflection of how much an institution values staff and, in turn, values their students. Hopefully, when it comes to training, you’re somewhere that recognises that value.
And if not, why not?
Tom Starkey teaches English at a college in the North of England