Martin’s Weblog

FE – 21st Century Identity Crisis

FE in the 21st century has been suffering something of an identity crisis – a number of key papers in the last few years have attempted to address the role of FE in a changing world. This blog presents my interpretation of the key elements of these recent papers together with a selective summary of each.

My Interpretation of recent education papers

In a nutshell my interpretation of recent education papers is that they suggest some radical reforms in terms of institutional mechanics and educational practice.

In terms of institutional mechanics they promote the instrumentation and the consumerisation of education through greater measurement and data collection and through the use of market forces and personalisation.  Foster suggests focusing education on economic value and providing the learner with greater choice. The 2006 white paper introduced the ideas demand led learning and learning accounts. The LSC (implementing Leitch) introduces the idea of a competitive learning market.

In terms of educational practice they promote the greater development of “soft skills” such as independent learning, communication and collaboration anticipated to be increasingly necessary for future prosperity.

Key elements for me are

– Developing Focus –

– FE needs to rediscover its roots in applied education (employment and vocation)

– FE needs to develop specialist excellence and economic relevance

– Developing Flexibility and personalisation

– Provide learning access in method, location and time suitable for the learner

– Developing soft skills

– independent research, problem solving, communication, collaboration.

– promote how to learn

Below is my selection of key points from recent education papers

Nov 2005 Foster report:  Review of the future role of FE Colleges

This report provided a statement about the current status of FE and some recommendations for change. I found the recommendations generally quite vague. One of the main conclusions was that “above all, FE lacks a clearly recognised and shared core purpose” and suggested that FE define itself. For me this meant that FE should rediscover its roots and focus on the application of education and skills and link better with the vocational. The report helped kick off the debate about

– Putting the learner at centre of focus and providing greater choice

– Improving the link of learning with economic value

March 2006 – The FE White Paper – Further Education: Raising Skills, Improving Life Chances

The white paper is essential reading and built on the Foster review ideas for defining FE’s role, focusing on employment and learner choice. The white paper introduced the ideas of demand led education. Within the white paper can be found

– A new approach to funding for 14-19-year-olds where more funding is driven directly by employer and learner choice.

– A better focus on employment and vocation – “A clear mission for FE, focused on the employability and progression of learners”. Further development of COVEs, Skills academies, Train to Gain, work based learning and foundation degrees.

– New specialised diplomas

– Learning accounts

– Ideas for personalised learning

– ideas for demand led provision

– Improved links with schools for 14 – 19 programs

– Encouragement for college’s to develop specialist excellence

November 2006 – Rammell – Personalising Further Education: Developing a Vision

From the White Paper ‘Further Education: Raising Skills, Improving Life Chances’ (March 2006) Rammell recognised the importance of learner participation and sought to develop further the ideas of personalisation in education.

The paper is vague about defining what personalisation is but describes the advantages and principles for personalisation. I have pulled out the following quotes to sum up the paper:

“Today, people want the service to be organised around them, not them around it. They want high quality service, tailored to their specific needs and at a time and place convenient for them…” (Blaire)

“Teachers see that technology may be used to deliver the benefits of personalised learning and appreciate the role of technology in enabling differentiation and choice.”

“Personalisation requires a shift in the responsibility between learner and provider. Learning in FE already takes place in a range of settings: in the workplace, online, as well as in the classroom. Where traditionally some teachers or trainers delivered knowledge to passive learners, personalisation fosters negotiation and greater dialogue with learners. We also believe that learners who are more actively engaged in their learning process will also acquire broader, transferable skills – for example self-motivation, independent analytical skills, adaptability and assertive negotiation – that provide a firm base for lifelong learning and are highly sought after by employers.”

“The development of Specialised Diplomas as a modular qualification with young people taking different modules or qualifications in different institutions will present challenges.”

“Offering flexibilities of location, start dates and timing (remote access, workplace and practical learning), facilitated through links with employers, other providers and the wider community.”

 December 2006 – The Leitch review of Skills – Prosperity For All In The Global Economy – World Class Skills

A long and detailed review with an excellent set of references. The review sets the scene for 21st century education and focuses on the assumed context for 2020. It Extrapolates current technical, economic, demographic trends to predict the skills and the education system needed by 2020.

The context is that of globalisation – global competition and increasing rate of change. Leitch views the natural resource of the 21st century to be our people and that education is the key to developing this resource. Leitch recommends:

– Attention to basic and skills for life (literacy, numeracy, ICT) an essential foundation.

– Development of service, management, professional and technical skills (e.g. communications, collaboration, research and problem solving)

– Development of demand led approaches to delivering learning (personalisation and choice), the use of learning accounts and a learning “market”

– Development of economic relevance (community and employer engagement)

– Developing a culture of learning (integrating learning with life and work)

 December 2006 –  Implementing Leitch LSC seminar

The LSC describes how it will redefine its role to operate a framework for education by operating a learning market  – The following  quotes sum up the LSC view

 “The LSC will no longer plan with colleges and providers in the way it has done. It will focus on the successful operation of the learning market”.

“The FE system needs to operate in an open and competitive market, driving up quality and delivering more innovative provision. This means moving away from the traditional planning role that exists to delivering through a demand-led system. Coupled with a funding system that reflects customer choice, a demand-led approach will free up the system to respond flexibly to customer demand over time.”

December 2006 The Gilbert Review of education – 2020 Vision

The Gilbert review has had the most influence on me and I thoroughly recommend it as essential reading. If you only read one original paper then read this one.

Like Leitch this looks at the requirements for what is assumed for 2020 but is addresses schools rather than FE. It also highlights personalisation (pupils taking ownership of their learning) and urges the development of soft skills such as communication, collaboration, information management, independent learning, creativity and inventiveness. The following quotes sum up the Gilbert review:

“We believe that personalising learning and teaching must play a central role in transforming England’s education service to achieve these aims between now and 2020.”

“ in the world of 2020 there will be greater access and reliance on technology in conducting daily interactions and transactions. A knowledge based economy and global competition, more complex pathways through education requiring young people to make choices decisions about their education.”

Gilbert advocates

“Engaging pupils as active partners, with responsibility for participating in designing their learning and providing feedback.”

“Using ICT to enhance collaboration and creative learning.”

“Using timetables flexibly to allow, for example, weeks devoted to intensive study or themed project work.”

Establishing curriculum teams of staff and pupils todevelop plans for improving learning and teaching.

Increasing curriculum breadth by delivering some lessons remotely using video conferencing.

Greater use of adults other than teachers to extend the range of skills and support for pupils.

Designing approaches to engaging and raising the achievement of underachieving groups.



December 31, 2007 - Posted by | education


  1. Martin

    A very thorough analysis. I would agree re the Gilbert Review. It would need a radical re think re timetabling to enable intensive study and themed weeks. Also how can we enable staff to access their own portal remotely and support them in writing CERs, online reviews, creating web materials etc to free them up to more effectively facilitate the learning experience.

    Comment by Lynne Pearson | January 2, 2008 | Reply

  2. Lynne,

    Thank you for your input – you have raised the issue of how this happens in the real world.

    So far we have been working with early adopters/active experimenters and have a small number of people who are aware of this stuff and are trying out a few things. The PET project takes this a little further (the Innovation Fund is a good idea).

    The problem is that existing institutional systems could be described “hostile” to the techniques suggested by the educational reform papers – institutions have no incentive to take the risks required to change techniques. At some stage institutional systems will need attention so that a formal framework is provided.

    Government can guide this by appropriate funding.

    Exam boards can guide this by appropriate syllabi.

    Colleges can guide this by appropriate systems – this is within our control and should be a significant item for debate as we can achieve significant competitive advantage.

    One question is whether we do this by embedding within existing systems or by creating a new “independent” system e.g. a “new Course” development group to deliver only through new techniques.

    Comment by martinking | January 3, 2008 | Reply

  3. For me, there are two key themes running through all of this:

    – very substantial increases in non main site delivery (with all the implications that this has for E-delivery)
    – personalisation (obviously but for both main (core) students and off-site learners).

    With these types of developments (especially the former) we risk losing the value of social/group dynamics (I still think most people study better as a group rather than individually). If I am right, a key question would be how to capture the undoubted benefits of E-learning without losing the benefits of group learning/motivation. Facebook style approaches may be part of the answer!

    Where do we go from here?

    Comment by Martin Rosner | January 3, 2008 | Reply

  4. […] Recent educational papers  promote ACTIVE LEARNING through consumerisation and personalisation. They promote demand led learning, competitive learning markets, learner accounts, greater learner choice and soft skills such as research, problem solving, collaboration, communication and information management. We will also be expected to deliver learning across boundaries – in the workplace, in other institutions and at home.  The educational papers suggest the mindset required. […]

    Pingback by Education: PIE and MASH-Beyond Space and Time « Martin’s Weblog | January 5, 2008 | Reply

  5. Thanks for your input Martin,

    You outline the challenge and I agree with what you say about physical social dynamics.

    I think social networks (facebook, Myspace, Beebo etc) have proved so popular is because they supply the missing ingredient to the NET – the social ingredient.

    We have ideas about this – I’m keen to find out what our learners think about all this?

    Comment by martinking | January 5, 2008 | Reply

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  7. […] asks and requires more personalisation. The IT industry is increasingly focused on consumer issues rather than corporate issues. Students […]

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