Reclaiming FE’s Collective Narratives


One of the challenges of work in FE is how  sidelined the sector has become for professionals, with colleges post incorporation actively encouraged to operate as fiefdoms. FE’s capacity to operate as a collegiate transformational space has arguably been marginalised, but there are ways to reclaim a collective narrative, such as the “FE Transforming Lives and Communities” project.

In 2015 I co-edited (with Maire Daley and Kevin Orr) “Further Education and the Twelve Dancing Princesses” which attempted to challenge Cinderella as the dominant deficit metaphor for FE, instead celebrating the collective professional spaces that we could still exploit. Our contributing dancing princesses were all known to us from professional activist networks, in particular Natfhe/UCU, but also Teacher Education in Lifelong Learning (TELL), The Learning and Skills Research Network (LSRN) and social media campaigns around the IfL fee and ESOL funding. We are currently finalising a sequel – “The Principal: Power and Professionalism in FE” – whose contributing authors and illustrators are known to us through additional networks; such as the NUS, the Association for Research in Post-Compulsory Education (ARPCE) and Tutor Voices. In this sequel the metaphorical focus shifts from princesses to princes, and we interrogate how power is exercised in FE (whether ethically or problematically) via Machiavelli’s “The Prince”.

I think the lesson I’ve drawn from working with colleagues on these projects is the power of making connections outside institutions, and how such networks can be personally nourishing, professionally transformational, and encourage collective chalk-face narratives about FE. We also owe a direct debt to “FE Transforming Lives and Communities”: through it were linked with one of its contributors, Curtis Tappenden, who has since become the new book’s Art Director and hugely enriched our project.