Where do we go after area review?
Posted 28 November 2016
This year’s AoC conference quite rightly dealt with the issues of the day, such as area review, mergers, inadequate funding levels and the need for leadership in a time of great uncertainty.
But it also started to raise questions about what comes next and how the sector will approach the challenges and opportunities of the coming months and years.
There are three tectonic policy plates all moving at the same time: apprenticeships, technical education and changes in higher education – particularly Level 4 and Level 5. There is a fourth that is going to start when article 50 is triggered – the focus on how to increase productivity through upskilling, so we can compete outside the EU.
Amidst all this, where do we go after area review?
Colleges will have to understand how best to serve their communities and the priorities of the employers within their areas. In that respect there will be no universal answer. Each local area will have different needs and demands, to which colleges must align.
That said, the curriculum shopping list may look a little like this:
More employers will want to focus their training activity on apprenticeships, to allow them to reclaim their levy. We can also expect employer groups to try to fill those gaps on the list of approved apprenticeship standards which they see as high priority for their businesses.
Colleges will need to understand, from their local employers and LEP, what are the likely demands in their area. From this, they can work out which of the new standards they wish to provide and, where relevant, how they might migrate from the SASE apprenticeship frameworks they currently deliver. They will need to think about new curriculum design, materials, delivery methods and recruiting or re-training their teaching staff, as well as marketing and new pricing mechanisms.
The Sainsbury review and the government’s response – the Post-16 Skills Plan – together with the changes in HE and move towards Level 4 and 5, present a real opportunity to define FE’s core place in communities. In the medium term, the new technical education qualifications should come in around the end of the present parliament. Colleges need to start focusing on which areas of curriculum they want to deliver, then develop plans to align their provision.
For some employees, there is a need to raise the bar for those with inadequate English and maths. For others it will be what the CBI defined in 2007 as employability skills, such as communication, timekeeping, problem solving, teamwork, work ethic, flexibility and the ability to keep learning.
In certain sectors, employees will need to obtain a licence to practice outside an apprenticeship requirement.
Employers will also want to upskill existing employees into higher-level jobs, by improving their technical knowledge and use of technology, new materials, methods and equipment.
Managerial skills are another area that is crucial for driving up productivity. So we could expect employers to want to develop their existing managers’ skills in respect of benchmarking, business process re-engineering (BPR or 6Sigma), change management, performance management, project management and productivity improvement practice.
In addition, employers might want to develop managers’ foundation skills, such as commercial understanding, communication, creativity & innovation, finance, HR and personnel management as well as leadership, negotiation & influencing and personnel management.
It’s a big shopping list and individual colleges will not be able to do it all. But when colleges are trying to position themselves post- area review, the way they approach developing their future strategy and curriculum will determine whether they succeed or fail. There is a lot to play for. Where do we go after area review?
This article originally appeared in the FE Week AoC Conference Supplement.
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