If we want to continue to Transform lives we need the transform ourselves?


I am proud to have been involved in Further and Adult Education for over 40 years. Firstly, as teacher, learner, lecturer, manager, Vice Principal and Principal and now privileged to be chair of governors at Northern College in Barnsley an Ofsted double rated ‘outstanding’ provider of Adult residential education.

In all those years I have been sustained by two things.

Firstly, the power of education to transform individual lives, families and communities. Secondly the commitment, passion and resilience of the workforce in further and adult education. I have yet to meet a teacher who is not dedicated to do the best for the students and to improve their own teaching, learning and assessment skills and knowledge or a member of support staff who did not passionately believe in the value of the work they were doing.

But things have been tough for further and adult education recently. Repeated year on year budget cuts, a lack of understanding of the role and needs of the sector by successive FE and Skills Ministers and the opportunity cost of the Area Based Reviews have all taken their toll.

We also have to recognise that the learning design principles which underpin the current system originated in a bygone industrial era. Dominated by Textiles, Mining, Steel, Shipbuilding and Manufacturing the underlying mindset upon which the current system is predicated is, in my view, no longer fit for purpose in digital world.

So if we wish to continue transforming lives and communities and want to build on our rich heritage of providing learning for working people and those preparing for work, then we have to look at ourselves and consider whether we need to transform the way we do things.

This was a key driving principle behind the support the then FE and Skills Minister Matt Hancock (Now at DCMS and lead on Governments Digital Strategy) gave to kick start the FELTAG movement which has attempted to nudge the sector towards a more digital future.

It is timely therefore that two reports recently launched provide a steer for our future vision and a stimulus to policy makers and FE leaders that we need a “paradigm shift” in the way the sector is funded, organised, regulated, assessed and ultimately judged.

The first is the Open University ‘Innovating Pedagogy 2016‘ report.

Produced every year this excellent publication provides an insight into how learning can be designed, delivered and assessed using technology.

The second is the report from the Skills Commission published today, ‘Going Places-Innovation in Further Education‘.

The commission heard that Innovation is where leaders are ‘prepared to go beyond the obvious; a different and creative approach to solving problems, pushing boundaries to serve communities and businesses’.

I was one of a number of witnesses to give evidence to the commission and it is an effective piece of work in general but especially relevant is Chapter 3 which summarises the challenges and opportunities the sector faces and makes a number of recommendations about a digital direction of travel.

The juxtaposition of the publication of these two reports in the space of a week provides us all with a window of opportunity to reflect on how we design, deliver, assess learning and engage and support learners in an increasingly digital world.

The time for carrying on doing the wrong things in the wrong way with diminished resources as best we can and expecting a different outcome is both demoralising and self defeating.

We need to transform ourselves if we want to transform the lives of our learners and communities. History demonstrates they depend on us.

Bob Harrison is Chair of Governors of Northern College, a Board member of the UfI Trust and was a member of the Ministerial Advisory Groups FELTAG and ETAG. He is currently a member of the DCMS Cyber Skills Advisory Group and a judge for the TES FE Award for Innovative use of Technology for Teaching Learning and Assessment. He is an assessor for Stanford University Masters Programme Learning Design with Technology.

Follow him on Twitter @bobharrisonset