Comment by Nigel Ecclesfield April 2021

We have already provided our observations on the White Paper, published on 21st January 2021, as a result of tracking the FE News Webcasts run in the six weeks leading up to 6th April (full index here). The following notes will pick up on our more detailed concerns about the topics ignored, downplayed, or misconceived by those developing policy in the DfE under seven fresh headings;

  1. Learning
  2. Learners and learner agency
  3. The use of digital technologies in learning and teaching
  4. Employer engagement in further education
  5. Inspection and other audit processes
  6. Further education in the contexts of communities
  7. Further education provision as architectures of participation
Wordle of FE White Paper Skills for Jobs 2021


The word learn appears 8 times, learning 48 times, learners 34 times and learner 6 times, but the overwhelming sense emerging from the use of the term learning in this White Paper is that learning is a process that is meant to happen to learners rather than, with post-16 learners,  an active process in which existing knowledge can be developed by learners and developed in ways that assist the learner to develop “learner-generated contexts” with their peers and teachers (we prefer the term practitioners) rather than merely reproducing approved content in the manner prescribed by external standards. There is no sense here of providers, employers, learners, and communities forming learning ecologies of resources, as described by Luckin (2008).

Learners and Learner agency

“For too long we have squandered much of our latent creativity and talent: this White Paper will be the lever to unleash it. It will ensure that people can learn the skills they need to get great jobs, as well as provide the means to plan a fulfilling and productive life.” Skills for Jobs SfJ p4.

This sentence comes from the Secretary of State’s and this remains the only occurrence of the word creativity, which we would link to learner agency, a concept sadly missing from the White Paper. there are no references at all to learners engaging with colleges beyond lessons and the consumption of learning content or to any form of peer support and engagement of adult learners across their lifetime. In fact, lifelong appears to mean while employed and nothing in the white paper refers to learners having a life outside their “great jobs” (see above). The irony of this is lost on those who are not aware of Graebner’s “Bullshit Jobs, which showed how many people in work have jobs that neither stretch nor engage them. There is nothing in the White Paper that instils confidence that learning in further education will promote and support learner agency and choice in the future envisaged by its authors.

The use of digital technologies in learning and teaching

We have both been working in digital practice over the last twenty-five years and have long argued that teaching and learning in digital contexts is not just about e-enabling existing practices, but that these practices can also be transformed as a result of learners, practitioners and providers collaboratively adopting the affordances of digital technologies as we have demonstrated in both “The Digital Practitioner” and the E-Maturity Framework for Further Education (EMFFE). These approaches provide engagement in technology use through the development of different teaching practices, along with learners, employers, and the wider community such that digital learning media and materials can be made fit for context, as we describe it, for the locality which is being served. The work of specialist colleges can be exemplary in this respect as they seek to develop digital technologies to meet the specific needs of individuals to promote and support agency among learners and enable better support practices.

Employer engagement in further education

With the few examples of good practice chosen to illustrate possibilities seen by Government, it would be easy for the first-time reader to assume that the further education and skills sector is in a dire state and has been languishing, waiting for employers to determine policy, curriculum, and standards for vocational qualifications. We would argue, on the contrary, that many colleges have long been working successfully with employers at local and national levels, but that Government policy vacillation and the continuing reductions in funding to the sector are key issues that need to be addressed. We think instead that Government should look to existing good practice by providers in employer engagement, and look beyond chambers of commerce to wider economic scenarios in order to fully engage with employers, rather than imposing a policing role on employers and their representatives, making them agents of Government.

Inspection and other audit processes

The White Paper appears to recognise that bidding for funding and the associated audit practices of the sector funding agencies, impose on providers and so they state the laudable aims of;

  1. “Simplifying and streamlining funding for further education ………”. SfJ p48
  1. “Give more certainty to providers over their funding, including considering how we could move to a multi-year funding regime which is more forward-looking.” SfJ p48

These have been Government objectives for the sector since 1992, but the detail supporting these statements is thin and depends on audit processes such as Local Skills Improvement Planning and provider governance, which will be improved in some unspecified manner, once Government, just eleven years on from their election in 2010, finally works out what good governance looks like. Governance as described in the White Paper appears to be an audit process linked to a duty to report on responses to the requirements of Local Skills Improvement Plans and the use of funding. In terms of inspection, “We will continue to work closely with OFSTED to focus our activity on ensuring that employers and learners can be assured of a high-quality experience. We will introduce a new approach to the accountability system, considering a wider set of quality measures to support provider improvement and more timely intervention.” SfJ p67. Given this Government’s fixation with data, the proposal seems to indicate, in the absence of concrete proposals on streamlining, additional audit burdens. We wonder whether The Treasury would countenance any reduction in the audit overheads on providers despite the deleterious effects of audit cultures on professional and learning and teaching practices (as described in Gornall et al 2014).

Further education in the context of communities

Further education providers have, throughout their histories, formed relationships with employers and workers in local industries, but they have been equally, if not more strongly, linked to the communities in which they are located, providing guidance, and learning experiences for a comprehensive range of learners who are choosing to study for a wide range of reasons which may include personal development, meeting family needs, work skills and returning to learning. All these reasons have been seen as valid and often linked to meeting the needs of both community and employment simultaneously. The White Paper does not use the word community and refers to communities only four times, as though employers in themselves both represent communities in their needs being prioritised whilst somehow being separate and having no responsibility to the communities in which they are located. In the eyes of Government despite Government funding for further education being routed through local skills plans, where there, as yet, is no reference to community despite this being where learning and employment has its basis and origins.

Lifelong learning solely focused on employment rests on the mistaken belief that value emerges solely within paid employment and that learning outside employment brings little value to work or community. We think this view is profoundly mistaken and needs to be challenged to bring community back into focus in post-compulsory education.

Further education provision as architectures of participation (AoP)

The governance, management and policy-making in Further Education has steadily become more remote from both staff and learners and this White Paper pushes the logic of managerialism and audit control to a new extreme in the totality of its proposals for an employer-led further education provision that is required to focus on the needs of employers as though they both represent communities and that their interests are synonymous with communities. However ever fewer Further Education colleges have originated or are headquartered in the communities where they operate, in similar ways to the merged colleges appearing since 1992 that appear to have an uneasy relationship with community and locality, adopting brand names in their merged state rather than the names of the places they are working in.

We think that colleges and other providers (with a few notable exceptions such as the WEA) now operate as “corporations” with senior managers responsible to governing bodies (corporation boards) that no longer reflect their communities, provide opportunities for learners and staff to be adequately represented nor engage in debates on the nature of the curriculum and teaching much beyond consideration of funding and audit issues governing the operation of a college in the 21st Century. With learners seen as “customers” whose satisfaction, and the measurement of its parameters, are the principal concern of college managers and, through lesson observation, teaching and support staff. We have long argued that learners and staff are ever more separated from decision-making in colleges and in the formation of educational policy and we now see, through this White Paper, moves to fix the control of providers in the abstract and quantified indices of outcomes determined by employers and the Secretary of State for Education, which remove any sense that learning after school is a participative process, requiring learners’ active contributions to help shape future provision rather than, at present recording their answers to banal questions coming from survey questionnaires and having these answers considered as statistics by corporate board members, funding agencies and Ofsted all of whom are remote from the day to day challenges of learning and teaching in specific locations. 


Our work seeks to consider providers as architectures of participation, looking at learners, communities, and staff as being active in the processes of operating learning and teaching, particularly in adult learning. It is here that Government edict as promoted by the White Paper and the current Secretary of State for Education are at their most damaging as they seek to impose consumerism in learning and technocratic managerialism in the operations of providers. 

Supporting Outstanding Teaching Coming at the end of the White Paper Chapter 5, finally gets round to framing a policy around teaching and learning, although the tone of the Chapter is one of seeming to blame teachers currently working in further education for the shortcomings of the sector i.e. through not having the necessary skills or not keeping their skills up to date, although, as we know from “All Change” the sector and its staff have been subjected  to “churn” for the last three decades and, as has come to be the norm from Government, staff are seen as being part of the problem rather than generating the solutions we found in the Digital Practitioner studies. As Polly Toynbee noted in The Guardian on 2nd April 2021 the sector lost 9,000 teaching staff through cuts and mergers from 2011 onwards and, as we continue to argue, the reductions in funding to further education since 2010 have led to stasis rather than dynamism in provision that will not be lifted by the proposals in the White Paper. We would note, in passing that Government intends to spend £65 million on the further education workforce in 2021-22. This workforce consists of 111,000 full-time equivalent members of staff – AoC College Key Facts 2019-2020 or, at a conservative estimate, in a sector relying on part-time staff, possibly 166, 500 individuals. A fund of £65 million would provide £586 per Full Time Equivalent member of staff or £390 per individual member of staff before the cost of the Government schemes are factored in. If that funding were focused on the 55,000 full-time equivalent teaching staff the annual investment in training and development rises to £1,181 per FTE or £788 per person if our factor of 1.5 persons per FTE is accepted (82,500 individuals). If the cost of initial teacher training is to be taken from this fund the individual investment in practitioners becomes derisory when set against the Government’s ambitions to reform the quality of teaching in further education. Non-teaching staff; One big issue for us is, that almost nothing is said about non-teaching staff in the White Paper and their roles in supporting teachers, learners, and managers. There are 56,000 FTE support staff in FE colleges, according to the AoC (84,000 individuals by our estimate) and we wonder when their contributions to FE will be acknowledged and support for their careers provided? The second big issue is the complete absence of reference to non-college providers in the funding, nor how their staff will be supported in the new world of high-quality teaching in further education. It seems to us, that the figure of £65 million touted by the Government as significant new investment is likely to be insignificant when set against the numbers and the need to make up for the loss of funding for staff development seen since 2010 with the loss of national Agencies such as LSIS and the reductions in college and other provider budgets. Adding in the cost of applying for the new funds and the reporting needed as well as funding already committed through the ETF, for example, leaves questions as to how much, in reality, will be added to the funding of staff development from April 2021. “We will work with the sector to ensure that providers can recruit, retain, and develop the teaching staff they need to deliver the best possible education to young people and adults. This will be underpinned by significant new investment in 2021/22, taking total spending on the further education workforce to over £65 million. We will:  •Launch a national recruitment campaign to communicate the opportunities in further education teaching and support prospective applicants to get started on their careers – including high-potential graduates, and experienced industry experts. Will a national recruitment campaign attract potential teachers from among those who are highly skilled and, presumably, in receipt of salaries that exceed those available to lecturers in further education?  Will colleges be required to pay salary premiums to staff recruited to teach in areas of skills shortages, and how will this differential work out in relation to Local Skills Plans and for existing staff where the skills shortages that need to be addressed may not be those envisaged by Government or form a significant part of local employer needs? We would add that there may be other issues of recognition and equity here, if existing skilled teachers are called upon to mentor and teach recruits in their college/work settings where such mentoring has often been based on the mentor’s craft professional skills as a teacher as much as their subject knowledge? There are many other questions here that suggest to us that the White Paper assumes that teacher education can be rapidly and readily adapted to employer requirements without acknowledging the learning needed by employers on the complexities of learning and teaching in post-compulsory education and its constantly changing nature. Support the reform of initial teacher education so it is based on employer-led standards, is driven by quality, and offers attractive and accessible training routes, underpinned by financial incentives for trainees in priority areas. This is clearly a politically led proposal as the case for reform is assumed rather than made in this chapter and the text makes the further assumption that employer-led standards can be developed for teacher training and applied across the further education curriculum, much of which is concerned with local needs or national academic objectives concerning Levels 1-3 and SEND among others, privileging subject knowledge over pedagogic understanding and practice. Here is the key argument – “However, in our engagement with a range of initial teacher education providers and further education providers we have been told that practice across the system is not uniformly good, and that the initial teacher education offer is too fragmented, difficult to navigate and not always based on sufficiently clear quality standards. Now is the time for government to take a more active role in challenging the status quo and providing better oversight of the initial teacher education system, ensuring that public funding goes only to high-quality provision based on clear employer-led standards.” SfJ p63  We would observe that the basis for the argument is not based on published research or systematic reference to Ofsted reports, for example,  although there is a reference noted here – Initial teacher education (ITE) inspections and outcomes: management information (Ofsted, last updated 2020) it is not quoted or referenced accurately as the documents are merely records of inspection visits and grades awarded and no commentary is provided to support the assumptions made on the basis of “hearsay” (“we have been told” op cit). There is also the question of which “status quo” needs challenging when Government policy defines the status quo for teacher education and the sector as a whole.  There is an agency, Ofsted, charged with the oversight of initial teacher training for the sector and the White Paper provides a reference showing this oversight is exercised, although not what the conclusions of the Chief Inspector has reached on the basis of all the evidence cited in the Ofsted document, covering 2012 to 2018. It strikes us that this section raises a straw man when hinting that there is a conspiracy, a “status quo” that the Government is going to challenge despite funding that status quo and having neither said nor done anything to identify issues in the delivery of initial teacher education to this point. While we have raised issues about the nature of teaching in the sector and its management, which we will discuss our postscript to this series, it will be based on our work in the sector and draw on evidence missing from the Government’s case against initial teacher training where there is no evidence or analysis of existing data such as inspection reports and the annual report of the Ofsted Chief Inspector. •Drive the provision of high-quality professional development to improve the quality of teaching and support progression for teaching staff. It might be more helpful to “fund” or “support” the provision of high-quality professional development in the sector and avoid the oxymoron in the sentence above linked to the word “drive”. “Supporting progression for teaching staff” hints at initiatives conspicuously lacking since 2010 and it would be fascinating to know exactly what forms of progression are being hinted at in this sentence. Will there be recognition for the work being done by the Education and Training Foundation and its predecessor the Institute for Teaching and Learning as well as individual F and HE providers of initial teacher training, conspicuously absent from the White Paper. •Enable a strong relationship between employers and providers, so industry experts can move easily into teaching, and teaching staff can maintain up-to-date knowledge of their sectors. This has been an aspiration for Governments since the 1950s but has failed often due to the lack of an infrastructure to support exchange between colleges and employers. Issues such as the productivity of experts being required in their place of work and concerns about intellectual property rights and commercial confidentiality are particularly notable in sectors pursuing advanced and innovative techniques in production and research. Typically, the White Paper has nothing to say on how the barriers to exchange might be overcome in both the employer and provider contexts. •Support apprenticeships teachers and lecturers with a tailored professional development offer. This sounds as though there is to be a much clearer offer of support for staff allied with more extensive training and development requirements placed on providers, despite the cutbacks experienced by the sector since 2010. When we read the relevant paragraphs of the White Paper though (paragraphs 153 and 154 p67); we find that the responsibility for CPD falls on providers and that they will be subject to enhanced audit processes through Ofsted, funding bodies and Government (through the enhanced powers for the Secretary of State) while nowhere is there reference to the work of ETF and other national bodies and how they might support the sector and be resourced to take on the tasks envisaged of CPD providers external to individual colleges. •Introduce comprehensive workforce data collection.” SfJ p60 The rationale for extending work force data collection seems to be;
  1. To implement the recommendations of the Augur Report in this respect. The specific recommendations are not quoted, although we have copied them below;
  2. Ensure workforce data collection matches that for staff in schools and universities.
Nowhere, is the use to be made of the “comprehensive” data discussed, although the increased audit burden to be placed on providers is described in more detail and this extra work will have to be further funded and internally audited, no doubt ( The FE News article published late on 1st April, appears to confirm our supposition ( see https://feweek.co.uk/2021/04/01/colleges-will-need-to-do-their-own-funding-audits-esfa-rules/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=colleges-will-need-to-do-their-own-funding-audits-esfa-rules&mc_cid=5ce5fe5140&mc_eid=a384d0f28b ). While the White Paper points at the “Independent panel report to the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding” (otherwise known as the Augur Report) (2019) SfJ p68 to justify its proposals, these are not entirely consistent with that report’s recommendations. Augur Report (Independent panel report to the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding) : Recommendation 4.9 The panel recommends that government improve data collection, collation, analysis and publication across the whole further education sector (including independent training providers). P137 It does not appear to us that this specific recommendation supports, in any detail,  the case made for comprehensive workforce data collection proposed in the White Paper. p 137 No sign of there being a Government response to the following, either, but this may be due to Government reluctance to require its different agencies to harmonise their operations and requirements to support providers by reducing audit/data requirements and the different focus of the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding with its consideration of higher education as a critical component of tertiary education. Recommendation 4.10 The OfS and the ESFA should establish a joint working party, co-chaired by the OfS and ESFA chairs, to align the requirements they place on providers and improve the interactions and exchange of information between these bodies. The working party should report to the Secretary of State for Education by March 2020. p137 Although the webcasts hosted by FE News and NOCN end on 6th April 2021 we will finish our coverage of the White Paper and the issues it raises around issues such as learning, digital technology and the future of the further education sector in the coming fortnight. Additional References Department for Education (2019), “Independent panel report to the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding”, DfE, London (frequently referred to as the “Augur Report”) Ecclesfield N and Garnett F (2020) “Digital Learning: Architectures of Participation”, IGI Global, Hershey PA You may also be interested in our earlier research work on emerging use of technology for learning which we call the Digital Practitioner, based on their curious use of personal technology in the daytime. We see it as creating “artfully-crafted, student-centred learning experiences” Nigel Ecclesfield 4th April 2021

Further Education White Paper 2021

“Since the early 1980s there have been:
• 28 major pieces of legislation related to vocational, FE and skills training;
• six different ministerial departments with overall responsibility for education;
• 48 secretaries of state with relevant responsibilities; and
• no organisation has survived longer than a decade.

Instability in the sector has created a complex and changeable landscape for its users and providers” All Change p5 They further note that “The reasons for the change and inconsistency in the FE sector are numerous, but have their roots in four issues:

  1. competing and often conflicting ideas about what the sector is for
  2. the high level of discretion that ministers have to make changes to the system
  3. organisations not being given time to bed in and make progress on reforms
  4. poor levels of institutional memory in Whitehall.” All Change p8

In the context of Chapter 4 there are two key points to be made drawing on the IfG report;

  1. the high level of discretion afforded to ministers to make changes to the system has been amplified by the powers the Secretary of State wishes to accord to himself as powers to influence the work of individual providers directly has been added to the leverage available at sector level and through national agencies such as Ofsted and the LSFA; and
  2. The White Paper demonstrates very clearly how poor the institutional memory of DfE and politicians remains, despite the apparent importance of the sector to the economy over the last forty plus years.

As you will see from the quote below, which introduces Chapter 4, the Government’s intention is to focus funding and accountability in supporting their policy intentions and in providing he Secretary of State with the powers to intervene directly in the operations of providers. The basis of such interventions will be “where colleges are not delivering effectively, or where local providers are consistently unable to deliver the skills priorities for that area.” SfJ p 48

It is worth quoting the the introductory summary of the Chapter 4 in full to allow readers to explore how effective the DfE have been in providing either a rationale for their proposals or details of their implementation. We will outline our own views below.

“We will reform our funding and accountability systems to better support providers in their role, simplifying funding streams and giving providers more autonomy, but holding them to account for the outcomes they deliver. We will develop proposals for consultation in spring 2021 which will set out how we will:

Simplify and streamline funding for further education to support high-value provision relevant to the labour market.

This has been a promise made by too many Governments who have reneged on their commitments to the sector and, in the case of this White Paper the proposals around higher level funding and the Lifelong Learning Guarantee appear to be adding additional complexity both at the level of funding and oversight with loan arrangements and reliance on tuition fees from learners beyond 2025. There are no specific proposals here to either simplify or streamline funding arrangements.

Supporting “high value provision relevant to the labour market” sounds like an aspiration that has been thought through for a very limited number of employment sectors that have been chosen to highlight the Government’s commitment to the manufacturing and engineering sectors allied to the application of digital technologies in areas such as programming and AI/artificial intelligence. This is following previous lines of travel in relation to these sectors, but, apparently learning nothing from the experience of the last twelve months of pandemic, where the importance of health and social care has been demonstrated more clearly than ever to everyone. There are four references to health and social care in the White Paper, but little on how provision might be improved, beyond the suggestions around front-loading apprenticeships and little indication of how higher capital spending and the focus on employer needs would engage employers in these and other sectors currently under-represented among Chambers of Commerce memberships.

Give more certainty to providers over their funding, including considering how we could move to a multi-year funding regime which is more forward-looking.

While the sector is waiting for the “Spring” consultation, it is clear that providers would approve of any proposals to move to longer term funding arrangements, but this requires trust in providers shown in a concomitant reduction in audit of their work by external agencies. What is presented in the White Paper indicates that there is little intention by the DfE to reduce the audit burden on providers nor trust in local arrangements. The publication of the British Academy’s “The Covid Decade: understanding the long-term societal impacts of Covid-19 and its associated publication “Shaping the Covid Decade: addressing long term societal impacts adds further to the sense that, despite an acknowledgement of the impact of Covid by the Secretary of State in his introduction (“we continue to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and prepare to recover and rebuild from its aftermath.”). The 11 further references to coronavirus emphasise economic recovery, but no mention of the other implications of the pandemic on issues such as community cohesion or mental health. It is also sad to see that the only publication cited in the text comes from Ernst and Young and their conclusions are not fully reflected in the White Paper, for example “Our survey results are unequivocal: COVID-19 has changed the economic landscape forever, and there is no going back. At the sector level, investor interest in digital technology and health and well-being has soared, while the attractiveness of clean tech has grown significantly across Europe, as changed lifestyles during the pandemic have increased awareness of climate and sustainability issues.”

The British Academy reports raise issues of place and community and, Continue Reading »

“Our Lifetime Skills Guarantee will ensure that no matter where you start from, or what your circumstances, there will be a flexible, high-quality technical education route available to you, at different points throughout your life, supported by the trusted careers information you need to choose the option that is best for you.” SfJ p39

The mechanisms envisaged to implement these policy ideas are seen as those listed on page 39 and shown in bullet points and in bold below. We have commented on each point in turn.

Implement the flexible Lifelong Loan Entitlement to the equivalent of four years of post-18 education from 2025.

This looks suspiciously like the extension of the student loans system for higher education which was seen by Wolf (2016) in the following terms; “There are very serious flaws in our …system….these flaws are totally unnecessary, highly expensive, involve major misallocation of resources and are ruinous to equal opportunity…..We have created here systems which are not merely highly inegalitarian but also financially ill-conceived, and demonstrably ill-suited to our labour market.” By extending loans to learners as the means to fund “high quality higher technical education” (see below) it is clear that Government is not prepared to deal with the ruinous costs to the public purse and the detrimental effects on providers, described by both Wolf (2016) and Collini (2019) as resulting from the current loans system.

As a pathway towards the Lifelong Loan Entitlement, we will stimulate the provision of high-quality higher technical education (levels 4 and 5), as we work towards making it as easy to get a student finance loan for an approved Higher Technical Qualification as it is for a degree.

So, “high-quality higher technical education” will become ‘a’ pathway towards Lifelong Loan Entitlement ( It would be interesting to know what other pathways are envisaged) as Government “works toward making it as easy to get a student finance loan for an approved Higher Technical Qualification as it is for a degree.” Here we have Government promoting indebtedness at precisely the point that they use the justification of the earnings coming from employment in jobs requiring higher technical skills will exceed those of graduates from degree courses.

This is in exactly the same way that Government promoted the existing student loan scheme as a way of supporting student fee payments, which would fund university provision and repay the public purse from future graduate earnings. As long ago as 2016, Wolf exposed the folly of this funding model and the costs to students and the public purse. Her objections to the same model being applied to fund higher-level technical education would remain and no doubt be added to as a system that is creaking is required to support a lifelong loan system, “more flexible and modular provision” and “credit transfer between institutions and courses”. Will colleges be looking for their commissions in a credit transfer system and how will they support learners wishing to build their own modular qualifications? This sounds something like American liberal arts degrees, so how will this work and at what point in such a credit transfer system would higher technical qualifications become “degrees” and who would validate them?

•Introduce pilots to stimulate higher technical education and incentivise more flexible and modular provision.

In the light of our previous comments we can see that the funding of further education is set to become more complicated and onerous for Government, learners and providers so it is difficult to know from the White Paper, in its totality, which pilots will be run to both “stimulate higher technical education and incentivise more flexible and modular provision. How would employers react when confronted with this potentially more complicated provision, which may need to be delivered in personal learning/training programmes covering timescales beyond those of degrees.

Determine how we can best stimulate credit transfer between institutions and courses.

While a return to consideration of credit transfer and a outline of the Government’s support mechanisms for such a project would be welcome, without considering credit accumulation and transfer (CAT) as a national system there is a risk that individual providers, employers and learners will be engaged in a complex of bureaucracies involved in finance, accreditation and recording achievement and learning, which will need to form a coherent system to deliver CAT.

•Consult on the detail and scope of the Lifelong Loan Entitlement in 2021.

The offer of consultation on the Lifelong Loan Entitlement is welcome and will be complex. Even if consideration of the financial arrangements for individual loans are the principal focus of the consultation (and this, in itself is complex enough), the related issues of the amount of flexibility the system will need to cope with, support for learners in planning personal learning programmes, provider roles in utilising and accounting for loan income are just a few of the issues the consultation needs to address if the offer is to have credibility with learners, providers and employers.

A £95 million offer, in 2021-22, for adults without an existing level 3 (A Level equivalent) qualification, targeted at courses that will improve their job prospects.

Is this offer, which looks to be a pilot for something that will need to be much larger to make arrangements for all the potential candidates for such a national programme who need to accredit learning and skills beyond Level 2 either through courses or accreditation of prior learning and achievement (APL, APEL, APA). Will employers be involved in supporting their own staff to gain higher level qualifications and how will they work with providers in this respect, alongside other calls on their time and resources?

Improve how teaching is delivered so that it is more accessible, with the use of digital and blended learning.

As we noted in our lead-in to the FE News sessions, the White Paper uses terms such as digital learning, blended learning and remote learning interchangeably, without any definitions being offered in the glossary and they confound confusion in this bullet point by seeing teaching delivery as encompassing digital and blended learning, as though there is an automatic link between how learners learn and methods used to support learning. Consultation with the sector, especially the “Blended Learning Consortium” with 50% of colleges, in membership would show that greater access to content does not necessarily make for improved teaching and learning. The experience of colleges and schools in lockdown, seeking to substitute online activity for individuals for the experience of more collaborative learning and teaching face to face, has shown this to be the case. The experience of MOOCs has shown that, for the majority of learners, online methods of learning lead to high levels of drop-out so a radical re-appraisal of teaching in digital environments is needed that goes well beyond the idea digital access is all that is needed to improve teaching. We will return to this issue in detail in our commentary on Chapters 4 and 5. Continue Reading »

16th March – Chapter 2: Providing advanced technical and higher technical skills

Summary of Proposals “We are making progression to advanced and higher technical study a core purpose of our skills reforms, enabling people to get great jobs in areas our economy needs. To achieve this, we will:

• Use the £2.5 billion National Skills Fund to enhance the funding to support adults to upskill and reskill. This will include an offer, backed by £95 million in 2021-22, for all adults to achieve their first full advanced (level 3) qualification targeted at courses that will improve their job prospects.

• Expand our flagship Institutes of Technology programme to every part of the country by the end of this Parliament, to spearhead the increase in higher-level technical skills in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths.

• Continue to roll out T Levels, to prepare students for entry into skilled employment or higher levels of technical study including apprenticeships.

• Reform higher technical education (level 4 and 5) with a new approval system based on employer-led standards.

• Create clear progression routes for students towards the higher-level technical qualifications that employers need.” SfJ p. 28

Reforms of funding and provider accountability – Chapter 4 are linked to the initiatives outlined in Chapter 2 (see our notes on Chapter 4 and link to the FE News webcast for further analysis 30th March 2021. Other links are drawn to Chapter 3 – covering flexibility and adult loans (23rd March) and Chapter 5 (6th April) the recruitment of staff with the expertise to teach at Levels 4 & 5 (higher level qualifications).

This Chapter acknowledges the failings of the current skills system, seen by Government, namely;

  1. The lack of investment in skills education – participation in further education declining from 3.1 million learners in 2011/12 to 2.1 million in 2018/19 although the role of austerity policies and the pressure on colleges to merge, resulting in a reduction of colleges from 361 in 2010 to 238 in 2019/20 is not discussed, neither is the narrowing of the post-compulsory curriculum in both further and higher education all of which, it can be argued, have played a role in reducing learner participation.
  2. A higher technical qualifications landscape that is crowded and confusing. In 2016/17, there were over 4,000 qualifications available at levels 4 and 5, with “no national assurance of which qualifications provide the skills employers need.” SfJ p34 Despite Government acceptance of the proposals in the Wolf Report (2011) to address this very issue, there has been no ostensible reduction in the number of these qualifications, nor of the complexity of the qualification landscape nor the negative effects on learners and their futures. (It is worth noting that this issue extends through Levels 3 and 2 and is another aspect of Government concern that threads through policy and legislation since the 1980s that has been untouched due to the low priority placed on the sector by successive Governments and the preservation of the “gold standard of ‘A’ Levels, resulting in the shelving of the proposals in the Dearing (1996) and Tomlinson (2004) reports to reform post-compulsory education and the qualifications system.)
  3. The lack of popularity and status of current higher technical qualifications. “In July 2020, reflecting key recommendations of both the Augar and Sainsbury Reports, we committed to establishing a system of higher technical education where learners and employers can have confidence in high-quality courses and qualifications that provide the knowledge and skills that they need.” SfJ p.35 While Government remains committed to the retention of the divide between academic and vocational education, prioritising the academic routes in post-compulsory education. The funding and status of further education learners, practitioners, providers and vocational qualifications shows no signs of being reformed to redress the balance between vocational and academic provision, rather than solving the growing systemic issues in the funding of post-compulsory education identified by Wolf (2016) and her collaborators and the stasis in the conventional outcomes and financial management of FE colleges between 2010 and 2019 demonstrated by the work commissioned by the DfE itself. (Popov D and Cattoretti G (2019) “The impact of college mergers in Further Education”, Department for Education, London).

These acknowledgements amount to an admission of the failure of policy since 2010 and before that and the continued failure of Government to acknowledge the day to day work of the the FE and Skills sector and promote it beyond the periodic updates of policy and the frequent turnover of politicians and DfE officials whose briefs cover further education.

Digital and other critical Skills

We will also work with employers to design and deliver short-duration advanced training. As part of the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, employer-led digital bootcamps are a flexible way to gain high-quality skills that are relevant to employers. From September 2020 to March 2021, we are investing £8 million to train adults in digital skills through an innovative, employer-led digital training initiative, helping adults of all ages to learn IT skills. Employers will select, or co-design with providers, short and flexible training lasting between 12 and 16 weeks which will meet critical skills needs and help adults to retrain, top up skills, or gain new specialist skills.” SfJ p30 Continue Reading »

We will be tracking the Briefing Webcast series initiated by FE Week to explore the White Paper, link here, in order to add detail to our two previous posts. As the series from Tuesday 9th March takes individual Chapters in the following sequence;

9 March – Chapter 1: Putting employers at the heart of post-16 skills

16 March – Chapter 2: Providing advanced technical and higher technical skills

23 March – Chapter 3: A flexible Lifetime Skills Guarantee

30 March – Chapter 4: More responsive and accountable providers

6 April – Chapter 5: Supporting ‘outstanding’ teaching;

we will be following the same sequence with a weekly post to contribute to the discussions initiated by FE Week.

Chapter 1 – Putting employers at the heart of post-16 skills

As we previously noted, putting employers in a central role in relation to FE provision has been embedded in policy of successive Governments since the 1980’s typified by the creation of Training and Enterprise Councils (TECs) in 1991 and the supplanting of local government influence on governing bodies in 1992, when FE Colleges became independent of their local authorities and employers were given a built-in majority in the make-up of governing bodies (now “corporations”) and Principals took on business titles such as “Chief Executive”. For the current Government, “We will ensure employers are at the heart of Post-16 skills, driving technical and higher technical skills provision in their areas.” Skills for Jobs (hereinafter SfJ) p 13. by

Giving “employers a central role working with further education colleges, other providers, and local stakeholders to develop new Local Skills Improvement Plans, which shape technical skills provision so that it meets local labour market needs.” SfJ p13

Piloting “Local Skills Improvement Plans in Trailblazer local areas, exploring an approach where they are led by accredited Chambers of Commerce and other business representative organisations in collaboration with local providers; and engage employer and provider groups to ensure we create the most effective models of employer representation before wider rollout.” SfJ p13

Aligning “the substantial majority of post-16 technical and higher technical education and training to employer-led standards set by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, so skills provision meets skills need.” SfJ p13

Inviting “proposals through the Strategic Development Fund to establish College Business Centres within further education colleges to work with employers in a designated sector on business development and innovation. SfJ p13

“A key objective of our reforms is to ensure that the provision of technical education and training is well aligned to what employers need. This will ensure that people are able to get good jobs and make progress in their careers. To achieve this, we need more employer engagement throughout the skills system, from identifying skills needs to developing the training and qualifications to meet them.” SfJ p14

“By putting employer needs at the heart of our reforms we will ensure the UK remains a global leader in attracting international investment and employers, and in doing so support our economy.” SfJ p14 (Does this mean that colleges will be supported to develop links to employers based overseas?)

“At the moment, employers do not have enough influence over the skills provision offered in their local area or enough say in how all technical training and qualifications are developed.” SfJ p14

As we noted in our first post on the White Paper post-compulsory education outside universities has seen a constant flow of ministerial and policy statements from both Conservative and Labour Governments bemoaning the lack of influence of employers on the providers of technical and vocational education and their intention to increase employer influence. To this end successive governments have provided opportunities for employers to comment on and lead this provision and there is little in this document to demonstrate how they will increase employer participation in or, contributions to, technical and vocational education. Let’s not forget that the two major reports on further education commissioned by the Labour Governments from 1997 – 2010, Foster in 2005 and Continue Reading »

What About Learning in FE? (2)

In the 2021 White Paper (Skills for Jobs: Lifelong Learning for Opportunity and Growth), there are 48 instances of the use of the word learning, often accompanied by other terms such as “blended”, “prior”, “online”, “classroom-based”, “digital”, “peer to peer”, “careers routes” “learning for work”, “lifelong learning” (with a sole mention of “learning difficulties” on p24). While the glossary provides definitions of these terms, there is a sense that the drafting of the document is presenting a much more consensual view of learning and some of its contexts than would be apparent from studying research into learning and the wider literature on learning. The authors see their proposals as seemingly being based on a common-sense approach to implementing learning that needs only to reference the views of employers in order to identify the needs of learners and to prepare them for work, while the role of teachers is to “deliver” learning for work, while making increasing use of online learning materials for online and/or blended learning. Employers alone are free to define teaching and learning.

Aspects of this attitude to learning, and the related dismissive attitude to teachers employed in the sector, can be found in related developments such as the “Skills Toolkit” where the impression may be gained that the providers and workforce in English further education are not regarded as “trusted providers” of digital content despite the quantities of materials produced over the last twenty years by staff in the sector. English further education is clearly not a “brand” for government to promote in the way that the Open University, Amazon and FutureLearn are. Ignoring the Blended Learning Consortium seems to be particularly unfortunate as 50% of English colleges are members and the content being produced is grounded in existing experience of work with employers.

Equally, there are puzzling juxtapositions of terms such that on p72 The Adult Education Budget (AEB) is seen as “funding targeted at engaging adults and providing the necessary skills and learning for work, an apprenticeship or other learning.” Looked at dispassionately, learners might acquire necessary skills and learn, but very few practitioners would state that they provide learning per se as the most they can do is to create the appropriate conditions for learning by individuals or groups. Learning is acquired by learners, who are yet another group ignored as potential partners and expert commentators on Government Policy and its implementation; so much for “Learner Voice”.

When discussing staff development and training for practitioners “We will encourage more organisations with relevant expertise to provide high-quality and evidence-based training and development for teaching staff in the sector. For example, supporting initiatives such as the WorldSkills UK’s Centre of Excellence scheme, developed in partnership with NCFE, where providers and teachers will be able to benefit from a skills and knowledge development programme including peer-to-peer learning and technical masterclasses based on international best practice” (p70). It is difficult to know what evidence-based training and development means here. Are training and development activities commissioned and developed with reference to specific research data on likely learning outcomes or will they depend on other forms of evidence derived from professional practice or audit processes such as inspection or the number of downloads/logins to specific resources to demonstrate their worth?

Equally, what international best practice will underpin technical masterclasses and peer to peer learning? Will that be Korean? Singaporean? Finnish? German? Dutch? Australasian? Japanese? or American? Answers to this question will indicate which approach to learning and teaching for sector teaching staff is envisaged by the DfE as the spectrum moves from leaner-centric approaches (Finland) to instructor focused (America) and varying levels of control of the post-compulsory curriculum. Where are the UK exemplars, such as the Digital Practitioner work that we have long promoted?

Can we take from this that there will be a growing separation between Continue Reading »

The restricted role for learners and practitioners in post-compulsory education

Released on 21st January 2021 by the English Government, the latest White Paper “Skills for Jobs: Lifelong Learning for Opportunity and Growth” While bodies representing employers (Chambers of Commerce and consultancies e.g. Deloitte) and college managers (Association of Colleges) have welcomed the proposals it feels as though they have been part of a behind the scenes consultation for those ‘in the know’ in the absence of any commitment by Government to consult on the White Paper more widely and involve those who are likely to be most affected by the policy proposals i.e. learners, college staff and local communities and local employers.

The key proposals set out in the White Paper are as follows;

Putting employers at the heart of post-16 skills:
• Give employers a central role working with further education colleges, other providers and local stakeholders to develop new Local Skills Improvement Plans which shape technical skills provision so that it meets local labour market skills needs. p9

Providing the advanced technical and higher technical skills the nation needs:
• Use the new £2.5 billion National Skills Fund to enhance the funding to support adults to upskill and reskill. This will include an offer, backed by £95 million in 2021-22, for all adults to achieve their first full advanced (level 3) qualification as part of the Lifetime Skills Guarantee.

A flexible Lifetime Skills Guarantee:
• Implement the flexible Lifelong Loan Entitlement to the equivalent of four years of post-18 education from 2025.

Responsive providers supported by effective accountability, governance, and intervention
• Consultation on the following proposals to reform our funding and accountability system:
• Simplification and streamlining of funding for further education to support high-value provision relevant to the labour market, with elements of simplified and streamlined funding to be tested ahead of consultation.
• Give more certainty to providers over their funding, including considering how we could move to a multi-year funding regime.
• Reform our accountability approach, relaxing ring fences and reporting; instead focusing on outcomes.
• Introduce new accountability structures to underpin the delivery of Local Skills Improvement Plans.

We will continue to invest in the college estate, to transform facilities and enable high-quality provision.

Introduce new powers for the Secretary of State for Education, so the government can intervene quickly and decisively in cases where there are persistent problems that cannot otherwise be addressed, either with colleges not delivering effectively or where local providers are unable to deliver the skills priorities for that area.

Strengthen the governance of colleges, by taking a clearer position on what good governance and leadership looks like and placing specific requirements on colleges and other provider types.
• Ensure that subcontracting practices improve educational outcomes.

Supporting outstanding teaching
• Launch a national recruitment campaign for teachers in further education settings.
• Base Initial Teacher Education on employer-led standards.
• Improve the provision of high-quality professional development and support progression for teachers.
• Facilitate a strong relationship between industry and providers.
• Support apprenticeships teachers and lecturers with a tailored professional development offer.
• Introduce comprehensive workforce data collection. Executive Summary pp9-12

For some helpful background to the White Paper it is worth reading the House of Commons Library “Research Briefing “FE white paper: Skills for Jobs for Lifelong Learning for Opportunity and Growth” by Andy Powell, Paul Boulton and Susan Hubble, published on 28th January 2021. Key issues identified in this briefing are the declines in funding and student numbers since 2003-4, which has included college mergers, reducing the numbers of colleges from 360 in 2010 to 244 in 2020, which includes, sixth form colleges (51), art and design and performing arts colleges (2), land-based colleges (13) and institutes of adult learning (10), part of the rich, but confusing tapestry of English post- compulsory education. Data from the Association of Colleges Statistical Briefing 2019-20 “College Key Facts

Our Response

What follows is a response to these proposals and the policy background to developments in “further education” since 2000 and issues we would raise with this White Paper. “On 29 April 2020 Gavin Williamson the education secretary told the Education Committee that the Government intended to publish a ‘revolutionary’ FE and skills white paper.” Powell, Boulton and Hubble (2021). That this document is not revolutionary will be demonstrated below.

Since 2003 the numbers of adults in further education have been dropping inexorably;

Source Powell, Bolton and Hubble (2021) (please note the typo/spelling error in the chart should read “Adults in FE down by more than half since 2005″

There are a wide range of factors behind the decline in further education students including: cuts in funding for some coursesincreased complexity in funding rules and the ongoing increased ‘competition’ from the higher education sector.

Spending on adult education has fallen by nearly two-thirds in real terms since 2003–04 and about half since 2009–10. In 2018/19, colleges’ income totalled £6.5 billion, of which £5.1billion (78%) was public funding.

While the period for analysis covers 2003-2020, we would argue that Continue Reading »

Some of you will be aware that today 24th July, Fred and I will see our book “Digital Learning: Architectures of Participation” published (book web page is here https://www.igi-global/book/digital-learning-architectures-participation/244422 )

We devote two chapters and further discussion to Architectures of Participation, in the book and, at its simplest our, argument can be summarised, in relation to teachers, as; “Traditionally, teachers and lecturers derive their confidence from their subject expertise as they develop their teaching practice, so we also need to allow for agency in teachers, which we see as developing their own unique craft professionalism. Both learning and teaching expertise needs to be scaffolded into practice over time and through this we can see the transformation of our education infrastructures into learning infrastructures in line with our principle of “adaptive institutions working across collaborative networks.” We think this transformation will come from educational institutions having a three-level operational plan involving “Enabling” learning platforms, “Evaluating” learning practice and “Exploring” the ecology of learning resources and learning tools in an organisational co-creation model.” Ecclesfield and Garnett (2020) p xviii

Sitting alongside this conception of teacher agency is our perception of learning institutions based on learner agency, which we develop across other chapters i.e. Chaps. 1, 2, 3, 9 & 10 and immanently throughout the book.

In this post, I would like to look, in brief, at how Luckin’s concept of the “ecology of resources”, utilised in the Open Context Model of Learning Luckin et al (2010) relates to the ideas we have been developing around Architectures of Participation in the book and develop our most recent ideas in this context. The two starting points with Rose Luckin’s work on ecologies of resources are her  paper in 2008  Luckin R (2008) / “The Learner Centric Ecology of Resources: a Framework for using Technology to Scaffold Learning”. Computers & Education 50 (2008) 449–462 and her book “Redesigning Learning Contexts: Technology-Rich, Learner-Centred Ecologies (2010).

Luckin’s conception of ecologies of resources is rich and, as elaborated in the book, and demonstrates her grounding in Vygotsky’s work and her work within different learning settings, particularly schools and higher education, where she introduced and developed “technology rich, learner-centred ecologies and explored both how learners learned and how technology could support and enhance learning.

Within ecologies of learning there are learners (as individuals) situated among three, key, sets of resources;

  1. Tools and People
  2. Environment
  3. Knowledge and skills

How learners relate to and interact with these resources is often influenced by others e.g. teachers and they and others frame the learning experience; Luckin uses the term ‘filters’ Luckin (2010) pp93-4 for actions by resources (particularly people), which influence how learners access and utilise particular resources, although these filters may now come to be applied by AI. These filters may often be operative in relation to the activity of the teacher, influencing how they conceive lesson topics, schemes of work or the curriculum which are, in turn, governed by the management of the institution providing the learning, and beyond, by national government and supra-national bodies whose work seeks to influence education e.g. OECD through its PISA assessment activities. This is not to ignore other sources of filters such as the learners’ peers, parents, communities and faiths whose influence is much less formal, but nevertheless present to learners and teachers/More Able Partners to influence the content and experience of learning.

Within an ecology of resources the learner is the focus of the ecology and may influence the ecology, particularly in their interaction with the people in the ecology who are present to the learner, or in interaction with the intelligent AI agents envisaged as becoming a significant part of a learner’s experience in Luckin’s later work Luckin (2018). In Luckin’s model of an ecology of resources as she elaborates it Luckin (2010) pp93-145 the external influences on any given ecology of resources are elaborated, but not described in terms of the social and political situation of the learner or the people resources such that the ecology of resources seems to be almost free floating within a given organisational context or operating as a service architecture.

Our concept of architectures of participation is designed to locate learning more concretely in organisational, community and political settings by focusing on the agency of learners and the contexts for action by learners and teachers as well as the framing and limitations of that agency in a given setting. In the Architecture of Participation Blog (http://www.architectureofparticipation.wordpress.com) I will explore this issue of learner agency and the enfolding of ecologies of resources within architectures of participation to support and develop self-determined learning as part of the discussion hosted there.


My last post to this blog was made eighteen months ago and since then politics and the personal have intervened, one the one hand illness and on the other, the working out of non-participative politics across the world with its consequences, not least in the Middle East, U.K., Europe, United States, India and elsewhere. I will go into specifics in later posts about these examples and others will be added.

In the short-term, I want to explore the impact of the current political climates, based hierarchy and didactic processes, on the workings of educational institutions and the models of learning practised in those institutions. As in the past, we see educational institutions at the level of systems, individual providers and in the activities of learners and practitioners.

What is apparent across the world has been the closing down of architectures of participation for learning and their replacement with centralised organisational practices and instructional approaches to teaching and learning. This post is advance notice of what will be explored in the coming months and how we hope to look at our shared interests in learning and new developments in heutagogy, linking our reflections and explorations of learning and educational systems in this age of austerity.

As always, we welcome comment and discussion.