The importance of the ‘College of the Future’ report to the future of FE in England

The launch of the UK College of the Future report from the Independent Commission on the College of the Future certainly throws some interesting ideas into the mix. With the soon-to-be released Future of FE White Paper by the government waiting in the wings, the timing is as close to perfect as can be.

The Commission was launched in Spring 2019 as a UK-wide, Four Nations process, asking two simple questions: what do we want and need from colleges from 2030 onwards, and how do we get there?

The involvement from the sector has been wide-ranging, intense and representative of the Four Nations as well as international quarters with several countries and the OECD offering insight and challenge. The statistics are impressive – over 150 regional events arranged and attended by an expansive audience of stakeholders; input from 6 international organisations and a national stakeholder event attended by over 100 people; 60 responses alone to the interim report; a draft publication supported by many academic and skills experts and a report looking at how colleges and the NHS can and are working together.

But what exactly does the report propose and how important will it be to the future of FE in England? There are a number of key components to which the recommendations for all nations are linked.

To begin with it advocates the creation of a new national, long-term post-16 education and skills strategy. This would provide a clear framework on which colleges could hang their national commitments alongside local business and community needs and growth requirements. No bad thing as it would allow an element of time and stability for the true development of relationships and partnerships to take forward learners, communities and economies.

Secondly it clearly identifies that to be successful entities delivering the national strategy, colleges really do need to be embedded in their local communities. They need to be talked about and referenced in the same way as a baker or a butcher or a florist – part of the community and not outside of it.

Governance and accountability also rank high on the agenda – a well-run, financially solvent and successful college can only be of benefit to those it serves and partners with. Investment and improvement need to be part of a forward looking, all inclusive culture. Networks need to be strong, well managed, and provide keen oversight of strategic objectives, financial goals and community inclusion.

Accessibility to high quality education for all is a high priority with more flexible, blended learning opportunities, and funding models which support modularised provision and micro-credentials. The need for longer term, more sustainable skills guarantees and statutory rights for lifelong learning are central to the fulfilment of personal potential. The ability for learners new and old, in work, seeking work and returning to work to become part of something, to achieve career goals and feel ready and confident to contribute personally, socially and economically, is essential at this moment in time.

To close and by far one of the most important in any education and skills setting, is the quality of the teaching and leadership staff. At the heart of this is the need for ongoing investment in CPD, with a focus on pathways into and through the college workforce. New advocates for skills advice services for people, student voice and business support will be sourced and developed. The requirement for effective leadership that supports innovative practice, diversity and inclusion will be fostered and championed across all 4 nations.

The report looks forward to 2030 and the need for colleges to be at the heart of the community, to be locally and nationally focussed, to be inclusive and open to diversity and innovation. Most of all the vision is for colleges to be foremost in the translation of public policy, national and international trends so that they become vital assets to the areas they serve. To be looked on not just as a place of learning but as a place of ambition, aspiration,  advancement and achievement. NCFE stands ready to support this new adventure.

You can read the full report here

Danielle McCullough
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