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FE in the spotlight

20 October 2020

When I listened to BBC Radio 4’ s World This Weekend report on Gavin Williamson’s Social Market Foundation speech on further education in the summer, I became incandescent with irritation and deflated with disappointment. Is it any wonder that despite their herculean efforts, further and adult education leaders, staff, and students feel that their voices fall on stony media ground. So, I want to speak up for and on behalf of the sector. I can because I am no longer in its professional hock. I do so in support of, and in solidarity with, all those in the service. Further Education gave me a massively rewarding career and although professionally I left the stage a while ago, I remain a passionate and vocal advocate for it.

So, what’s got my goat? The simple answer is the media reporting (or in most cases non-reporting) of what is clearly a carefully and cleverly executed communications strategy trailing news that the forthcoming FE White Paper is just that…it’s about government policy and funding for FE and it’s not about HE and universities. Would listeners and viewers of mainstream media have formed this view based on media coverage of the Secretary of State’s politically astute and targeted speech? Why do universities (their vice chancellors and former ministers) feature so prominently in what reporting there has been? How could BBC Radio 4 turn a major and landmark story about FE into yet another encomium to universities?

Media stories abound with the current dire state of universities echoing the reception given when the Augur Review was originally published and when the really new (and good) story was that in the person of Philip Augur, FE had found a contemporary independent champion the like of whom had not been seen since the days of Sir Andrew Foster (for historians of the sector).

Wake up BBC. Get real mainstream media. The big story here is that this prime minister, like his predecessor Theresa May (remember her speech in Derby College in early 2018), as well as the education secretary have turned their focus towards technical training, vocational qualifications, and T-levels.

I began teaching in FE in the mid 1970’s. All major reform of FE has been initiated by Conservative administrations. This government is no exception. It intends to rebalance its funding and policy attentions on to FE in order to address decades of under resourcing and policy flip flop. I urge the media to put further and adult education in the spotlight and the funding of skills under the microscope. FE’s time has come – and we should all celebrate this.