Friday, 6 April 2007

the FE White Paper

This post will be very dreary for anyone not interested in education (and even then it is quite boring!) so if you want something more appealing to read, there is an interesting discussion going down on interracial marriages here, or you can look at the debate on whether fully veiled women should drive here, or receive some beneficial advice on how to memorise Qur’an in the west here.

Usually, I’m not one for bureaucracy and Government decisions. I’m happy just doing what I’m told and concentrating on what’s going on in the classroom. But the further education white paper is something I think I’m going to have to get my head around, as it will soon change the way students are taught from the ages of 14 to 19. you can find the relevant document here or just read my summary and thoughts below. If nothing else, it will hopefully give you something to think about and expand on in one of those meetings you may have to attend on the issue, or in an interview situation.

The white paper is the government’s vision for further education. It is a response to the Foster report, which basically stated that colleges in England are failing students when weighed against international standards. The international baccalaureate, for example, places a high emphasis on vocational skills and therefore recruits more students after school leaving age. This is largely due to the fact that they have skills which employers value.

Apparently, this is a major problem with the current educational system here in the UK. Employers do not feel that students leave education with the skills required to succeed in the work place. This is particularly applicable to adults who do not have basic skills in literacy and numeracy, and also in key specialist areas such as electrical engineering.

What the Government wants to do then is give employers more of a say in how courses are run by allowing them to determine how funding is allocated. It will also give LSCs the right to stop funding failing colleges until an adequate leadership system is put into place. (LSCs – learning and skills counsels- are basically in charge of anything to with money or funding in FE- you have them to thank for EMA- educational maintenance allowance- for example, which is both a blessing and a curse, but that deserves a separate post)

Another solution to the problem is to introduce diplomas into the education market starting in 2008. These are a compromise between A Levels and the baccalaureate, and some of the course will be work based.

The white paper also wants to ensure that teachers in FE are adequately qualified by introducing the equivalent of QTS (starting in September 2007) and will deal with the pay gap between teachers in schools and colleges (as at the moment colleges don’t have to stick to the pay spine that schools do). Finally, the Government will try and ensure all courses are free for students or “clients” up to the age of 25, provided it’s their first level 3 (A Level or equivalent) course.

My thoughts

The new diplomas are supposed to change peoples’ perceptions of vocational courses so they don’t carry the stigma of being less academic then A levels. However, it is very difficult to change perceptions overnight, and I think the UK values A Levels too much for vocational courses to reach a par with A Levles as it does in other European countries. At the same time that some of the diplomas will be introduced in 2008, the A level system is also due for a major change in the way it is structured, which will cost a lot and will require extra training, thus showing that A Levels are here to stay for the foreseeable future at least.

It’s a shame though. I have students that are very able and who are just more suited to vocational courses, because of their personality and interests. But these students are “strongly advised” to go with the more academic option, whereas students with lower GCSE averages are encouraged to do BTECS etc.
I did the same thing recently. My younger brother is choosing options for college and I made sure he chose A Levels. But it’s nothing to do with my perceptions. I just have insider’s information on how colleges and universities perceive the so called equivalent of A Levels.

The LSCs have the power to stop funding for failing colleges. This is really unfair. If the colleges are failing, it is probably largely due to the fact that they don’t have enough money for resources etc anyway. The thing is, in the LSC’s eyes, a college is a business and the students are thus referred to as “clients” and the “market” should be open to “competition”. I can understand all that , but to me the students are actual people and I know them by their first names, and what may be deemed as failures in terms of results etc but not in everyday little things you see, like improvements in social interaction which do matter and should matter.

Free funding up to 25 is a positive move, especially as most adults coming back into education are in their early twenties anyway. But what about people over 25? It just seems like age discrimination to me. One of the things I hate about teaching adults is the fact that they have to pay. In fact, during the first week I have to check they have paid and send them away if they haven’t. I hate that. It is one of the reasons I didn’t want to go into a career like law, for example. I hate dealing with money upfront. I’d much rather pretend money has nothing to do with it. I really do think I would do my job for free, I love it so much. Anyway, what I would hate more than anything is a class where half the people are paying and half are not, just because of age.
I hate it at the moment, with EMA as half the people get it and half don’t depending on their parents income. But I did say that was a separate post.

Wow I think I’d better stop now, this is like an essay! As no one is probably reading anymore anyway, I won’t bother saying goodbye:)

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