July 25, 2017


The FE Curriculum Needs UpdatingFE Curriculum Needs a Total Overhaul If We Are to Remain Financially Viable

We’ve essentially run the same FE curriculum for a very long time. I’m not advocating change for the sake of change. Indeed we have seen far too much change foisted on FE by government over recent years to make that a palatable proposition. However, the world is changing and we need to reflect that in our offer. I’m not alone in this view and would cite Jacky Lumby in Journal of Vocational Education and Training, Vol. 48, No. 4, 1996, who pointed to the pressure from government to upskill the nation but that in many cases this has led to a  pre-occupation with finance rather than curriculum.

There have also been regular changes to the qualification structure which in recent times has led to T-levels .. and their subsequent delays. In June 2017 Amanda Spielman spoke at length to an AOC audience about the curriculum review that had commenced. But in a sense this is scratching the surface. It has no bearing on how we are to remain financially viable.

There are also questions being asked about the amount of teaching we offer our students.  Nic Dakin MP suggests the 15 hours per week we offer our students is inferior to the 30 hours provided to students in Shanghai. I find his argument that young people deserve more impossible to dispute.

Alison Birkinshaw also argues that in Education Funding – You Get What You Pay For



A More Robust FE Curriculum

The hours, finance and need to upskill the nation are just part of the issue. What we deliver and how we deliver it is just as important .. some would say more important.  In the Capital Funding section I mention Inter High School that delivers to its 300 pupils entirely online. The advent of the Internet, Google Classroom and other technologies means we can deliver in different ways. No longer is strict classroom attendance necessary for all courses or parts of courses. We could extend the currrent paltry 15 hour teaching week by better use of IT .. within the existing budget if we rethink our delivery of FE.

A more robust FE curriculum also needs to focus on content. Only a few years ago I met a group of business people who were questioning one of my FE clients about why they were teaching techniques that hadn’t been used in their sector for several decades. The fact that it was part of the then prescribed curriculum and could therefore lead to an exam question was not accepted by the sector. This might be an extreme case but the reality is the curriculum tends towards the traditional and new techniques are not included as fast as they might be.


A Drone Driven Curriculum

Drones are a perfect example of how the FE curriculum misses out on new technologies and techniques. Drones are now common place and far too frequently we hear of near misses with aircraft.

When I was at Miami Dade College in 2016 they told me about their drone courses. One college in the UK, Harper Adams University College, has been running a Drones in Agriculture conference for four years. But elsewhere the lack of drones in the college curriculum is evident. Yet drones are now used by the Police, Fire Service, Army, Architects, Civil Engineers, Farmers, Archaeologists and others on a daily basis.  So why has FE ignored drones? Why has it failed to run courses for these professionals? Why has it left Drone Certification courses to NATS  (National Air Traffic Control) and a handful of private providers. There are plenty of FE colleges near airports .. and actually an airport is not needed to run these courses.

The drone example is just that. An example. But if the FE sector is to be financially viable it needs to embrace the change that drones represent. It needs to deliver the course that the business sector needs and is willing to pay for.

I frequently hear that businesses are not prepared to pay for courses. Arguably they have been “trained” by one initiative after another to expect free or low cost. But they will pay if we offer the right courses, at the right time and at the right price. And that doesn’t mean cheap. It means value!


More On Paying for Courses in a Financially Viable FE Sector

The severe funding cuts to the Adult Budget has led many providers to cease many courses as being nonviable. At the same time many private providers have increased their full cost provision in to the leisure market. As someone that has paid significant sums for cookery courses over  the years I see new cookery schools setting up on a regular basis. Despite many colleges having teaching kitchens standing empty for up to 20 weeks a year none of these seem to be in colleges. And yet these courses are financially viable. They also increase room occupancy and can bring in significant sums without the intervention of the funding bodies and others to inspect them.  This isn’t just about cookery courses. It is about eh fact that FE is fighting to remain financially viable and claims to want to be “agile organisations that can anticipate and react to change”.


The Required FE Curriculum Changes

Only by delivering the courses our customers require can we satisfy their needs, encourage full cost income and remain financially viable. In many cases this will mean continuing the traditional offer.  I would be the last to suggest we ignore it. But we also need to embrace the need to deliver on the priorities our wide customer base requires if we are to remain financially viable and indeed buoyant.

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