August 1, 2017

Achieving the Impossible in FE

Achieving the Impossible: UnderFunding in Hospitals Doesn't Mean a 30 week yearImagine If Public Services Such as Hospitals Only Operated During Term Time

People would die. There would be chaos. People would take to the streets. Questions would be asked in parliament. But hospitals are good at Achieving the Impossible.

So why do we think it acceptable that colleges operate a three term system? Why do we think people can wait for education? Can we let expensive buildings sit empty for months each year?


Why Can’t Education Operate 52 Weeks a Year?

The three term structure is well embedded in education. It was originally based around farming. Local farmers needed young people for the harvest sop they skipped school. So schools went with the flow and closed. The whole system was built around the harvest.

So now we believe as it’s always been done that way. We’ve built exam timetables around the harvest and this now prevents other structures. We are also told that staff need preparation time ….. The unions wouldn’t allow any thing different …… We need down time for building maintenance and repairs.

But are these valid reasons?

There are plenty of private providers in FE that operate at least 50 weeks a year. They do it without union problems. Their staff get time for preparation and to take holidays. Exams don’t dictate their timetables.  A 50+ week culture is embedded in their psyche.

FE already takes apprentices all year round with few difficulties. So why can’t we emulate this thinking elsewhere in education? We could have a flexible approach with staff taking holidays throughout the year to suit their agreed/negotiated teaching commitments. At the very least we might enjoy holidays without the school holidays related price hikes we currently see!


Exemplars of Good Practice?

One of the cookery schools I frequent for leisure courses operates seven days a week for 50 weeks every year. And don’t be fooled by thinking it is different for them as their courses are leisure based. They also offer a full range of exam based professional courses and manage to fit the teaching of these courses around the same exam dates as any public sector provider.

Of course if we were funded as well as we were in the past there would be no problem with a three term year. It has served us well for hundreds of years.

But times have moved on. The government no longer funds us as well as we’d like. That’s not likely to change during our careers. So it is up to us to save the system. They aren’t going to do it for us. We need to set about Achieving the Impossible.

We are NOT alone in having to rethink term times. In the US some schools are now moving away from the “Plantation” dates that drove academic thinking and are doing the unthinkable and basing the terms around what makes most sense for their students, local employers and other stakeholders. Could it be time we moved from the agricultural harvest time dates that have driven education for so long? Our students no longer insist on time off for harvest … so why do we still maintain this academic year format.

Achieving the Impossible in Education

Conventional wisdom is the bane of our lives. It stops us doing what we need to do to save the day.

Douglas Bader overcame conventional wisdomTake Douglas Bader. When he lost his legs in a flying accident before WWII he was told he would never fly again and retired from the air force. But conventional thinking didn’t stop him. At the outbreak of war he re-enlisted .. there were no regulations to prevent him! And he fought in the Battle of Britain and became one of the few that Churchill said were owed so much to. Later he was shot down over Germany and put in a POW camp. Conventional wisdom said that with tin legs he couldn’t escape. But he tried. Repeatedly. And was put into Colditz Castle where he remained fighting his war against the enemy, tying up the time of valuable soldiers that were needed at the front. Bader didn’t accept conventional thinking. He helped win the war.

If Douglas Bader can succeed against “impossible” odds then there is no reason why FE can’t.

Of course it take a change of mindset to achieve the impossible. But most impossible things are only impossible if we stick to conventional thinking.


Action Required

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