There is much to feel positive about in the recently released White Paper, “Skills for Jobs”. Those of us who have been in the sector long enough to see numerous White Papers, consultations and skills initiatives launched over the years recognise that it is always possible to identify areas that are perceivably missing from such publications or which could have gone further. We also know that these are proposals; and there is significant distance that the sector must travel to reach a policy outcome, legislation or reform. Ultimate impact and the unlocking of the potential presented in any Government paper is most often governed by the scale and realism of the financial settlement that will underwrite any possible implementation. Plans can be welcomed only to be killed off, never to emerge through the inevitable round of spending reviews, scaling back of funds and budgetary redirection. It is easy, sometimes, for the sector to be cynical when the frustrations of previous false starts are recalled and we look back at the history of national commitments on skills, technical and vocational education that have not come to fruition in the manner that was hoped. This time round it feels different.
The principles at the heart of this White Paper and the proposed actions and points of consultation, suggest that the voice and experience of the sector and the businesses and communities that it serves have been listened to. Critical, systemic issues which can either enable or impede the sector’s ability to plan and move forward are finally being acknowledged and addressed in a meaningful way: the structure and duration of funding cycles aligned to long term strategy; clear, collective local planning that informs and shapes curricula; recognition of capacity building needed in terms of time, space and funds to support real ongoing development and collaboration between industry and further education; a drive to recruit teachers and facilitate movement between industry and education; recognition that continued professional development in terms of industrial currency and technical competence is critical and that providers must be supported practically to ensure teachers can access these development opportunities with regularity.
Professional development and recognition is a fundamental aspect of the CIFE’s purpose in supporting the sector so that teachers, trainers, lecturers, in fact all those delivering technical and vocational education and training, continue to develop their skills to ensure that we provide the high quality technical and vocational education needed to meet the challenges we are facing as a society.
We are entering into an era when industries in the UK are facing the economic impact of Brexit, low availability of high-level skills for the future, the evolution of Industry 4.0 and, in an unprecedented year from which many organisations are struggling to emerge, the financial consequences of the Covid 19 pandemic.
The role of technical and professional education has always been critical in helping industry and individuals to thrive in a landscape which is shifting rapidly both in terms of the way we work, the skills that are needed and the societal challenges we face. Now, more than ever, this is true; and having a society with the right skills at the right level will be essential if we are to be successful in the Prime Minister’s words, “building back better”. We must make it our priority to support the employment prospects of a generation of young people who have experienced a period of extreme disruption to their education and development and the career transitions and re-skilling of adults who now find themselves unemployed. Businesses need our support to move forward efficiently in a trading environment which is undergoing so much change and short term uncertainty.
One of the Chartered Institution aims is to ensure that its work in promoting Further Education and encouraging continuous quality improvement also recognises the task facing FE in the current global context. The CIFE understands that support for the sector must be built through means which are practically relevant to organisations and which, ultimately, serve to enhance the provision of technical and professional education for learners, employers and the wider community. It seems that the proposals and solutions set out in the White Paper resonate with this.
Our focus for individuals must be on dual professionalism and ensuring that the development of pedagogic practice set out in the professional teaching standards for FE is matched equally by continuous professional development (CPD) in industry. This is an important part of the CIFE’s purpose in furthering ongoing quality improvement and evolution of technical and professional education. Provision of a systematic evaluation and recognition process for industry specific CPD offers independent validation and evidence of CPD activity while providing a valuable employment benefit to individual staff members in FE organisations.
While the dual practice concept is integral to further education and the provision of high quality technical and professional training, essential, meaningful industry specific CPD has been increasingly challenging for organisations to provide in a consistent and structured way, without detrimental disruption to the immediate day to day delivery of learning.
The Chartered Institution will be positioned not only to provide a clear framework and criteria for recognising industry specific CPD, but also to support individual practitioners and managers to define the scope of a CPD experience, articulate their requests to industry in a relevant way and, in so doing, increase the range, relevance and frequency of high quality industrial CPD.
CIFE must also leverage the expertise and experience of their Fellows in helping organisations to shift their engagement and collaboration with employers from a transactional approach to a transformational, integrative relationship. This enables reciprocal exchange and shared value with industry in ways which support the creation of CPD opportunities.
The CIFE is focused on aiding Member organisations and their staff to generate relevant industrial and vocational CPD opportunities that would contribute to maintenance of the dual professionalism. This is essential to the provision of high quality technical and professional education called for by Government, needed by industry and fundamental to the success of the T Level and Apprenticeship programmes and re-framing of FE to encompass a greater proportion of higher technical qualifications.
Meaningful recognition of excellence from a Chartered Institution signals quality and enables parents, students, employers and other organisations within the sector to make investment decisions with confidence; whether that is the selection of technical and professional education programmes; procurement of training provision for industry; or recruitment of staff or advisors within the sector.
This type of quality mark enables ease of connectivity and exchange of services between FE organisations, external corporations and individual practitioners. It is also aids in driving career aspirations and incentivising excellence with all staff across FE because industry specific CPD can apply more equitably to those in teaching and non-teaching roles. It also assists FE organisations to move away from frequently cost prohibitive, traditional models of external training for staff, towards a self-directed, continuous improvement approach based on knowledge exchange and experiential learning supported through relevant tools, structured CPD recognition and support in ongoing external engagement with industry.
Understanding the skills challenges, needs and priorities of industry sectors is critical both in terms of day-to-day operation and planning within our organisations, and the long-term development of technical and professional education. Our commissioned research programme is employer led and provides an evidence base to inform policy pertaining to technical and professional education and training, enables providers to reflect on the latest information regarding industry needs and future demands.
Our goal to aid the creation of meaningful, industry related CPD and provide a structured system for evaluating, recognising and tracking individual progression will be significant in protecting the duality of professionalism that is synonymous with FE, critical to a successful skills system and vital for industry. This should be underpinned by the growing evidence base derived from industry led research, employer collaboration and business insight; communities of practice, shared professional reflection and ambitious collective innovation; and guided by networks of experts with proven experience, considerable resilience and unwavering commitment to technical and professional education. The future prosperity of our economy, our businesses and our regions depends on this sector’s capacity to provide the skills needed.
So, whatever reservations we may have, or memories of previous short-lived initiatives, the spirit of this White Paper represents a pivotal opportunity for our sector to move forward. It has finally placed us centre stage, and we must get behind it, push through with these critical proposals and then give our best performance yet. The CIFE will be ready to support the sector.
Dawn Ward CBE
Deputy Chair of the Chartered Institution for Further Education