I have been following for a long while the valuable project “Transformational Further Education: Empowering People & Communities”, the culmination of research based on the very many inspiring stories from learners and teachers, collated by Dr Vicky Duckworth and Dr Rob Smith. It was brought to life on the very first occasion I had the privilege to hear Dr Duckworth present this research, a year ago. Her passion for this research was evident when sharing the very moving stories the learners had to tell. This piece of work is unique, in that it is living research that will likely outlive and influence for years to come. Already it’s informing policy through promise of sufficient funding to support the sector; the DfE appears to have awakened finally to understanding the vital role the FE sector plays in uplifting disadvantaged citizens, not just through acquisition of skills and knowledge, but also their mental wellbeing.
Many young adults face difficult times when on the verge of leaving school; the stress of getting grades good enough to get a place at university or simply not having sufficient literacy and numeracy skills to even be able to pass the antiquated end of school exams. The teachers at school may just not have enough capacity to support those who need more time to assimilate learning, and sometimes the vastness of the curriculum means teachers have to resort to didactic methods, teaching to pass exams, rather than to gain understanding. Similarly, very many adults may have had to go through a very negative learning journey years ago at school (a common story amongst many who come to FE) or they have had to endure years of strife that has stripped away their confidence and their self-esteem. When they want to return to learning or to employment, they already have many barriers to overcome. The FE sector offers all of these learners a more equitable experience by virtue of its inclusive nature. Every individual has a story and it is these stories that unify and motivate them to succeed. And behind each of these learners is a teacher, who skilfully and creatively plans and facilitates their learning, who actively promotes collegiality amongst their learners and prepares them with all of the tools needed to go forth and succeed in their future lives. You can find some of these transformative approaches compiled within the UCU Further education: Transforming lives and communities booklet.
My own story starts as a learner at my local adult education college, when I wanted to return back to work and realised that the world was being dominated by technology that I had no knowledge of and was of a generation that was inherently afraid of it! Little did I dream that this would lead to years of teaching in the sector myself. FE and Adult Ed gave me opportunities for continuous development and career progression; I was able to follow a pathway that brought me exciting opportunities, but more importantly I had the privilege of being a part of my learners’ transformative journeys. So, as an educator and a teacher educator, I was not unfamiliar with life-changing stories related by my past learners. However, it is quite humbling to read how far reaching the impact can be. Learning that is facilitated by an inspiring teacher does not just empower the individual but the wider community in which they live. You only have to listen to Marie’s story, Guy’s story, Gary’s story, Herbert’s story, Jacqui’s story – learners whose lives were transformed thanks to FE and also listen to some of the stories recounted by FE teachers – Lucy’s story, Curtis’s story, Alan’s story.
There is no doubt that this project and meta research that is emerging from it provides strong, concrete evidence that the FE sector needs to be recognised as an important catalyst for change – transformative change, not just by policy makers but by employers and society as a relevant and valuable pathway for learning in 21st century Britain.
About the author:
Khorshed Bhote has many years of experience working in the Adult and Community Learning and Further Education sectors, as well as in the Higher Education Sector. She started as a part-time Applied Computing lecturer, including working with adults with specific learning difficulties and disabilities and with disadvantaged communities. She has facilitated and led teacher education within three FE/ACL colleges and has experience of leading cross college professional development. Her experience has provided her with an understanding of the unique individuality of people, employing the best approach to support skills development and enable individuals to achieve their goals. She now works as a coach and mentor to teachers within the education sector and as a facilitator and consultant, specialising in leadership development and change management.
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