If the headlines are to be believed, the Further Education sector is stricken, if not doomed: The Institute for Fiscal Studies reports an 8 percent decrease in funding for 16 to 18 year olds over the last 8 years; there’s been a significant drop in adults enrolling for courses which in turn means less government funding; coupled with a greater onus on colleges to provide students with quality industry placements, whist communicating and engaging more effectively with more and more employees; and all that’s before we even mention Brexit…
In other words, as you hear across so many sectors: more responsibilities and more work, but less funding available to do it.
The solution must surely lie in colleges embracing the very latest software and technology, if for no other reason than to keep up with the students they’re supporting as they embark on crucial extended placements. And for colleges who have secured support from the Capacity and Delivery Fund (CDF), there is an explicit expectation that they will take responsibility for driving the quality and quantity of these longer placements at the same time as closely tracking their progress and success.
For many in FE, the CDF can been viewed as a double-edged sword with the obvious benefits of financial input, coupled with the increased burden in terms of administration, monitoring and reporting.
Indeed the deadline for providing this term’s monitoring and progress reports was this week, on 1 October. Some colleges may well have struggled to demonstrate that they’re on target to deliver the placements they are committed to – not because the placements themselves aren’t working, more likely because the systems they have in place to achieve the level of monitoring and feedback required may not be robust enough.
Expecting students to fill in a log book, using old-fashioned paper and pen, is undoubtedly out of date and will result in students giving minimal input to the process – if that.
And college managers must grapple with an array of software applications and spreadsheets to satisfy the constant demand for evidence for funding and inspection agencies, to show their external placements meet all requirements.
The good news is, there are a range of integrated platforms available which are designed specifically to appeal to students, ensuring they are engaged and interested in making sure their placement works. You just won’t hear “the dog ate it” if the students are given the responsibility and handed the technology to ensure the feedback on their placement is appropriate.
For college managers too, platforms like ProMonitor and Grofar help them to keep a close eye on their placements, strengthen their relationship with employers, and make sure all funding and inspection criteria are met.
CEO of Grofar James Robertson says: “Technology like ours can only help, that’s why the government is enabling colleges, through CDF, to invest in just these sorts of initiatives. The four areas where enhanced capacity is being encouraged are: for building relationships with employers; for administration and support personnel for students; for processes and procedures to make the entire process as efficient as possible; and for enhanced data and management Information. It is up to colleges to use this funding wisely to ensure placements are as successful as they can be for the college, for the employer and most importantly for the student.”
Richard Durston, Group Director of Institutional Effectiveness at Activate Learning (a group of FE colleges) added: “We knew the 1 October deadline was looming to get all the placement monitoring submitted – and I was so relieved we’d torn up the work books, deleted the spreadsheets and adopted a more integrated approach! It was better all round and meant that when we had to submit our reports, it was surprisingly straightforward. I can’t say it was stress free – but the sleepless nights were certainly reduced once we’d invested in Grofar as an integrated platform.”
But will the students buy into something like an integrated platform? A new report from the Office of National Statistics concludes that the current generation of students, dubbed Generation Sensible, will spend 17 more minutes online per day compared to students in 2000. They’re more likely to be in front of a computer or in the library than propping up the bar – in fact the report found less than half of all the 18 to 24 year olds they surveyed had consumed any alcohol within the previous week.
So yes, giving them the software they need to make the most of their educational opportunities seems more than likely to reduce the burden on colleges, enable the best possible use of limited funding and, most importantly of all, give them that all important step onto the first rung of the career ladder to enhance their future prospects.
And let’s not forget, the future could indeed be more positive for the FE sector than current headlines suggest: the government is committed to spending £500m on the new T-levels from 2020, creating a vocational qualification as respected and recognised as an academic A level. Colleges that embrace the technology available will find themselves at the heart of one of the most significant step changes in education for a generation.