Passing the stress test

I have been hugely impressed by the way in which the further education (FE) sector has responded to the challenges of the last 15 months. During that time, we have seen three national lockdowns, as well as a number of local measures that have forced those working in the sector to rapidly adapt their delivery model and teaching to help ensure learners are not unduly disadvantaged.

It’s at times like these – when the sector is effectively being stress-tested – that having a solid base of ethical principles and professionalism comes into its own: a subject we explore in our article on page 20.

As we hopefully start to move back towards something approaching more ‘normal’ conditions, it’s clear that  FE will play an important role in helping our society and economy bounce back. The recent White Paper acknowledged this, and our exclusive interview with Gillian Keegan, minister for apprenticeships and skills, on page 10 outlines how it plans to provide a better system to enable this to happen.

Apprenticeships will be a vital part of the mix, and we also take an in-depth look at this topic on page 23, exploring new measures to help ensure the right blend of teaching vital skills and picking up valuable on-the-job experience. Adult community education is another area that will contribute to helping get the country back on its feet, but the sector is under pressure. Read more about this on page 26.

Aside from the recovery from the pandemic, ensuring the FE system plays its part in achieving equality of opportunity for all is a major priority. On page 16 you will find an in-depth interview between David Russell, chief executive of the Education and Training Foundation (ETF), and Denise Brown, CEO of Stoke on Trent College, in which she outlines her thoughts on how to decolonise the curriculum in FE. Our Opinion columns this issue also centre around this theme, with pieces from equity and belonging consultant Laila El-Metoui and the ETF’s own director for diversity Jeff Greenidge.

Elsewhere in this issue, you’ll find an interview with Shaid Mahmood, chair of the Association of Colleges, and thought-provoking pieces from Chloë Hynes and Paul Tully in The Knowledge. There’s also our maths, English and ESOL supplement, which takes a detailed look at these vital elements of learning.

Finally, plans are well underway for our next SET Conference, which will take place online later this year. You can read more about this on page 36, as well as recapping some of last year’s content. We will update you on details in due course. In the meantime, I wish everyone an enjoyable summer, and I hope you are able to get a well-deserved break in this country or possibly even overseas.

Martin Reid, Director of SET

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