What would FE look like if you rebuilt it from scratch?

Imagine this: aliens have invaded and all post-16 education in the UK has been suspended. It's up to you to rebuild FE. What would you do?

Kate Parker

FE, Further education, Rebuilding FE, ReimagineFE

“Yikes! An all-powerful race of interstellar beings recently visited Earth. This caused great social and political upheaval across the globe, and all post-16 education in the UK was temporarily suspended. Our interstellar visitors have now gone home peacefully, having tasked you with rebuilding FE.”

That what the #ReimagineFE conference in Birmingham tasked an online audience with answering this week. 

Many in the sector have gripes with the current system – almost daily on Tes, we publish blogs in which people offer their suggestions on what could be improved and why.

Rebuilding the system

But if you had the chance to rebuild the system completely from scratch (once you'd go over the shock of meeting the "all-powerful race of interstellar beings"), what would you ditch, keep or transform in FE? 

Some drew on their frustrations with the current system and suggested that in their FE-utopia, there would be smaller class sizes, a variety of vocational and A level courses, and teachers who were left to teach how they wished.

Others had bolder suggestions like community hubs with outdoor space as an alternative to traditional college buildings, removing the term "vocational education" and introducing holographic 4D image projection. 

Here are some of the proposals in full 

  • Andy: “My rebuilt FE would focus on students aged 15-19, keeping the structure as it is at present but more focus in helping students make the transition from school in addition to the transition to university. In an ideal world, we could have hundreds of subjects, even with small class sizes. If the students have a passion and drive for a subject they should follow their interests. Teaching would be based on lectures, one-to-ones, small group exercises and maybe trialling the use of holographic 4D image projection to improve visual learning and understanding. Buildings would be traditional, but with a modern twist.”
  • Christine: “Campuses are wherever they are needed or online. More small, community-based campuses rather than forcing people to come to a city. We appear to be forcing people who want to continue their education towards city campuses so something to combat this and help rural communities would be good. Any new campuses shouldn’t have to be built to a formula of square foot per person, and should have spacious rooms for all to use. In fact, any teachers/practitioners/lecturers must have their say about size/layout etc of classes in these campuses and not left to a non-educator to design. Oh and not forgetting about leisure classes in this new FE... lots of community leisure classes!”
  • Amy: “16+ anyone else that wishes to come back into education. There would be a variety of long courses, vocational and A levels. You get to choose your own method of assessment. There would also be lots of short courses to give people a range of skills, experiences and knowledge; gardening, fitness, mindfulness and wellbeing, cookery, textiles, arts, languages, book-keeping, internet research skills, managing your finances, make-up, coding, IT, poetry. All colleges would be exceptionally well staffed and students could choose to study in the day or in the evening. Teachers teach how they want to teach. There would be no more than 15 to a class. Buildings would all be brand new: modern, bright and airy. Lots of interesting and unique social spaces including lots of gardens and greenery. There would be a beautiful, modern, well-staffed library in every college with technology and study spaces for everyone.”
  • Kay: "Lots to think about but I think the first thing I would do is get rid of the demarcations e.g. between children's and adult's learning, different subject silos etc. So FE would be an intergenerational experience and consist of a range of projects across different specialisms. Each would contain elements of activism for social change. I would also do away with college buildings and traditional infrastructure and set up community hubs with extended outdoor spaces.”
  • Christine: "FE is roughly 16+ but not strictly so, we all know school isn’t right for everyone so why be forced to stay when there are other more applicable options. In my wee utopia I would remove the term vocational education. Education is education and by assigning subjects under headings we perpetuate the nonsensical hierarchy around subject types academic/non academic and unwittingly (or wittingly) reinforce the negative societal stance around the value of FE v HE."
  • Anonymous: "Our FE would look similar in terms of students/lecturers and probably subjects too. All the life skills we teach alongside our classes would be recognised and put into students timetables. In the new design students have access to a range of up to date resources so that they can test out all their practical skills before going out into the workforce. Subjects share their best practice and integrate it across the areas to extend knowledge and the FE environment is used for a range of community activities, where people are encouraged in a love of learning. Classes are extended by a range of virtual interactions but the heart of our learning is done together where students are taking ownership of their assessments. Community is built around our classrooms and students can see just how valuable they are. Leaders understand the crucial work we do in FE and recognise our importance, investing in our sector."

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Kate Parker

Kate Parker is a schools and colleges content producer.

Find me on Twitter @KateParkerTes

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