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The Industrial strategy – a call to arms for the FE sector

Mon 4 Dec 2017 - posted by Julie Mills

It’s not every day one can say government has come up with a really interesting strategy document - nor less one which could potentially lead to the transformation of technical and skills education.

If you haven’t yet read or even skimmed through, Industrial Strategy – Building a Britain fit for the Future, it really is worth a read. There appears to be real money on offer for maths, for technology training, for skills, for adult learning, for construction and for regional development. Possibly most important of all, Further Education gets more than a passing mention. The report identifies the need to “Establish a technical education system that rivals the best in the world, to stand alongside our world-class higher education system.” For years, in fact probably for longer than anyone currently involved in FE has been in full-time work, this is precisely what we who live the sector every day have been trying to explain to those who don’t get FE. This could be a breakthrough moment and we must grab the opportunity because, if followed through, it could be transformative for the future of skills training in Britain.

One section in particular could have come from the kind of wish list heard from the platform at the Association of Colleges conference:

“In the past, we have given insufficient attention to technical education. We do not have enough people skilled in science, technology, engineering and maths. We need to narrow disparities between communities in skills and education and remove barriers faced by workers from underrepresented groups in realising their potential.”

“We will ensure that everyone can improve their skills throughout their lives, increasing their earning power and opportunities for better jobs. We will equip citizens for jobs shaped by next generation technology. As the economy adapts, we want everyone to access and enjoy good work.”

To back this up there’s a promise of £406m for maths, digital and technical education alongside the National Retraining Scheme. The latter is initially to be concentrated on digital and construction training which, for us here in Milton Keynes and the surrounding region, is hugely important. The document identifies the Oxford – Milton Keynes - Cambridge corridor as crucial for national economic growth and big investment is planned.

Alongside the implementation of T-Levels and the overhaul of technical skills qualifications there are suggestions of a real focus on teaching and learning. There’s a promise of £40m to “establish Further Education Centres of Excellence across the country to build teaching capacity and spread best practice.” That must be something to which every college in the country believes it can contribute – an opportunity to show how brilliant their best staff are and for their wisdom to be shared throughout education.

Those six words quoted above, “Insufficient technical education in the past,” could be the most important in all 255 pages of the document. If they are not an open invitation to FE to join the debate it’s hard to imagine what would be. I would urge principals and governors alike to get on to their local employer networks, their LEPS, their local authorities and their MPs to explain how these new monies could best be spent and new governmental attitudes best encouraged. If the document is to be believed, this may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have our voices heard. If we’re too quiet, we will only have ourselves to blame if the caravan passes on and this industrial strategy is left to moulder on a dusty Whitehall shelf.

Dr Julie Mills, Principal & Chief Executive, Milton Keynes College

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