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Sector News, 10 - 14 November 2008

Anyone for stretching?  Education Guardian, 11 November 2008. 

“The Cambridge pre-U has been promoted as an alternative to A levels that will help the top universities to distinguish between the stream of students applying for their top courses.”   There are those who believe that the courses could prove divisive and even give an unfair advantage to students from high flying schools.

Winners and losers as training takes off.  Education Guardian, 11 November 2008.

Another article on the cost of Train to Gain and its apparent lack of success in attracting employers.  The article also includes more on the ongoing row about DIUS raiding the further education budget to bail out higher education.  Alan Tuckett director of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (Niace), is quoted as saying that whilst Train to Gain is a useful addition, it is small and it should not wipe out everything else.

Power, pilates and tango to the people.  Education Guardian, 11 November 2008.

A new website, the School of Everything (SoE), promises to revolutionise adult education.  There are 3,000 teachers and 5,000 students registered on the site, many of the teachers being ex-adult education teachers.  The organiser’s goal is to link students and teachers both nationally and internationally and to mimic the success of the Open University. The school of everything's website can be found by clicking on this link.

Carolyn Cheasman helps those who stammer to ‘come out’.  Education Guardian, 11 November 2008.

A short article by a speech and language therapist who stammered from around the age of eight.  Carolyn looks at the causes of what for many can become a debilitating affliction.

Degrees won’t be trusted until regulation changes.  Education Guardian, 11 November 2008. Comment: Terence Kealy, vice-chancellor, University of Buckingham.

Terence Kealy comments that rises in firsts or 2:1s from 45% a decade ago to 60% now degrades the value of the award.  He attacks the QAA (Quality Assurance Agency) for its lack of academic staff and its love of jargon.  Furthermore he complains that auditing regimes do little to enhance the QAA’s reputation.  Simply reading minutes and interviewing people does not give a sound basis for judgments, nor does it help that amongst the audit team there is unlikely to be anyone with senior management experience or the holder of a PhD.

Colleges set the pace.  Education Guardian, 11 November 2008.

This week the Guardian carries a supplement on the 157 group, an alliance of 25 large colleges who are trying to build relationships both inside and outside the sector.  No links to the Guardian were found, but there is a web site where more information can be obtained, The supplement contains the following:

Uncharted waters.

Peter Kingston’s introduction to the supplement.

The perceived role of the 157 group and question of whether size really matters.  Peter comments that the further education sector provides 48% of those going on to higher education, and caters for about 3 million adults and a quarter of a million 16 to 19 year olds.

A voice in further education.

A smallish alliance of the largest further education colleges in England, the 157 group (25 colleges in all), takes its name from paragraph 157 of Sir Andrew Foster’s report on the future roe of further education colleges (Nov. 2005).  Paragraph 157 calls for a “a greater involvement of principals in national representation, in particular those from larger, successful colleges where management capacity exists to release them for this work”.  Amongst other co-operative actions, the group is attempting to build relationships with Government offices and is arguing for self-regulation.

How to have a presence that really matters.

The 157 group believe that size really does matter, although they have been accused of being ’too big for their boots’.   Size is not everything but it does help large colleges to deliver a wide range of options.  When John Denham stated that there is no evidence that larger colleges provide more effective education, the group interpreted this as a challenge to show solid evidence to contradict the statement.

The sector has the confidence to create its own destiny.

Comment: Jackie Fisher, principal and chief executive of the Newcastle College Group.

“A college’s size should be determined by a range of factors, and responsible organisations will not allow unmanaged expansion”.  Growing in size is hard work and needs committed staff who wish to serve the public good.

First principles from the principals.

Sets out the aims and ambition of the group along with the names of the 25 colleges who are members.  The group’s primary aims are to:  

  • develop and practice a leadership paradigm for FE colleges
  • enhance the reputation of FE colleges
  • play a leading role in shaping and delivering a quality improvement agenda for the further education system
  • work towards, and once achieved, if appropriate, to administer, self-accrediting and self-regulating status for members
  • develop projects or enterprises on behalf of the members.

 The information in this section can be obtained from the website (link above).

It’s about acting together and learning’.

A call for more self-regulation and a removal of the bureaucratic burden in order to free up resources for teaching and learning.

Change reflects growing confidence in sector.

Comment: Pat Bacon, principal St. Helens College.

 Pat argues that the power to validate provision (e.g. foundation degrees) reflects the growing confidence in the role of further education. ]

Large but perfectly formed.

Large colleges generally require a different style of leadership than small colleges. For example, in a small college it is not unusual for senior managers to know their colleagues by name.  Many large colleges take on a distributive style of management, which means that they must trust their managers, at all levels, to take responsibility and make decisions.  The 157 group should also show strong leadership and be capable of negotiating at all levels, including governmental.  However, it must do this within the context of other colleges who are not in the group.  To do otherwise will alienate the 157 group.

Challenges remain.

Sir Andrew Foster, independent reviewer of the future role of FE colleges (Nov. 2005), is pleased that the voice of the learner has become centre stage, the formation of a national learner panel and the implementation of better processes encouraging representation and engagement of students.  In addition significant engagement of employers has taken place.  However, how much additional funding is going directly to the front line and wishes to see a more coherent sector agreement to the self regulation debate.

How to make sure you stay on Quality Street.

An important issue facing large colleges is how do they ensure that the education and training they deliver is of high quality at all their sites.  Key factors include having all levels of management responsible for the delivery of high quality education and training,  ensuring that they have accessible and accurate data and clear goals. There are colleges with peer group review, quality units, a person responsible for quality in each curriculum area all adding to major quality frameworks.

We are already world-class: a global league table would prove it.

Geoff Hall, principal of New College Nottingham, is convinced that if there were a league table for further education, the UK would be number one.  His argument is based upon a system of inspection which cannot be matched, a robust standardisation of data collection and good apprenticeship completions and progression rates.

Cinderella sector goes to the ball.

Rather than being elitist, the 157 group is creating a shop window of opportunity and striving to raise standards across FE generally.  The group also claims that the possibilities of discussing policies and procedures with each other has been invaluable.  Collectively the group has 10,000 overseas students and does £20m of business a year.  The group is better placed to exploit overseas work than a single college, hence the group is looking (as a unit) to expand overseas activity.

Lip service to teaching is not enough, report says.  THE, 13 November 2008.

“The university system is failing staff who want to specialise in teaching, and must develop "more robust" criteria for recruiting and promoting lecturers for their contribution to students' learning”.   This conclusion is one of a number in a report for the Government on the future of UK universities.  The report concludes that too many academics are forced into research and that progression through the ranks pays lip-service to teaching. 

The report also suggests:

  • remodelling of the undergraduate curriculum to offer trans-disciplinary programmes,
  • developing published measures of universities’ commitment to teaching and the student experience,
  • creation of a national examiner system,
  • strengthening complaints procedures and sanctions against breaches of quality or standards.

The report is one of nine being published by the Government this week.

All the reports can be read in full using the links below:

Teaching and Learning: Demographic change: Part time students: Intellectual property: Working with the government: Research careers: Online innovation: Internationalisation: Institutional performance measures.    (courtesy of THE)

Make lower offer for applicants from bad schools.  THE, 13 November 2008

Part of an article entitled “Policies extend privilege, not participation”.

Details of an access scheme that lowers university entry requirements for students from low achieving schools has been passed to medical and dental schools.  St. George’s University of London, created the idea for its Extended Medical Degree Programme and it is designed to check a student’s performance against the norm of the school.  Hence, if a student’s achievement is better than the expected achievement from the school, that student will be seen as an equal to a student who has performed well in a high achieving school.

Former quality chief calls for regular reviews of degree-awarding powers.  THE, 13 November 2008.

A former quality assurance chief has suggested that universities should have their powers to award degrees scrutinised every few years. Professor Brown claims that vice-chancellors are guilty of adopting a “head in the sand” attitude to quality.  Although accepting the controversial nature of his comments, he goes on to say that the QAA’s institutional audit (taking place every seven years), should be as rigorous as when institutions apply for degree-awarding powers.

Professor Brown is professor of higher education at Liverpool Hope University and was chief exec. Of the Higher Education Quality Council.

You can lead cattle to water but you can’t make them think.  THE, 13 November 2008.

Opinion: Bob Blaisdell, associate professor in the English department, Kingsborough Community College, City University of New York.

Bob explains how a lesson in animal behaviour helped him improve classroom comforts and student learning.  (Amusing and worth a read).

Disaffected school children would be better off at work.  The Independent, 13 November 2008.

Mark Davis is a Civil Engineer who spent three months teaching, an experience he would rather not repeat.  Here he discusses why putting disaffected school children to work would be a good idea.

Investment in colleges pays off.  TES, FE Focus, 14 November 2008.

The TES reports that a study by the Association of Colleges (AoC) suggests that there is a good return on money spent in FE.  Over the past fifteen years, those who have studied in FE have contributed £27 billion to the economy.  The contribution is based on an American study of the socio-economic impact of eighty English colleges.

Ofsted opens up inspection to debate. TES, FE Focus, 14 November 2008.

High performing colleges may only be visited every six years, whilst poor performing colleges can expect more regular visits. Ofsted is also considering whether it should reduce the notice given to inspect and whether on the spot inspections should take place.

In defence of diplomas. TES, FE Focus, 14 November 2008. Comment: Sarah McCarthy-Fry, minister, Department for Children, Schools and Families.

In response to comments made by David Collins (president AoC), Sarah McCarthy-Fry states that early feedback suggests that learners and teachers are hugely excited by the development of the Diploma.  She disputes the idea that the Government ever had a target for participation in the Diploma and that figures previously announced were projections of capacity to deliver.

Firms slow to board Train to Gain, says Ofsted. TES, FE Focus, 14 November 2008.

More incentives are needed to broaden Train to Gain’s appeal to employers.  Take up with firms is too slow, yet those that have recognised the benefits have won tenders because there staff are demonstrably better skilled than others.