Maureen’s Blog – October 2013

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Welcome back to the new term…which brings many changes and challenges; it’s hard to know where to start! We have been working hard over the summer break to update the Facts Sheets, View Points and Info Sheets to reflect the new developments that are being introduced this year so that you have up-to-date information. We hope you will download these and find them useful.

What is new for this academic year? Traineeships, Programmes of Study, raising of the participation age to 17 and loans for those over aged 24 and over. No mandatory requirement to hold a teaching qualification to practice in FE and the demise of the agency that had supported staff development (LSIS). No more Key Skills, Skills for Life on the way out and Functional Skills now the qualification of choice for Adults. Apprentices and Traineeships. No wonder the sector is reeling!

My particular concern for this academic year is how the recommendations from Alison Wolfe and Doug Richards are now impacting on those required to deliver English and maths to learners. Both Wolfe and Richards rightly identified that all programmes of study (irrespective of where and how the studying takes place) should include progression in maths and English. We know this is the right way forward and applaud the way Ofsted is now penalising those providers who can’t demonstrate an integrated approach to this key requirement of a learner’s programme.

But, with no support from LSIS and the new Education and Training Foundation in disarray (as they are still looking for someone to lead them), at this moment in time, providers are having to support their staff development with woefully inadequate funding.

For large post-16 providers with specialist staff that can be deployed for in-house staff development, or have the resources to employ external contractors it is possible to tailor a CPD programme for up-skilling those who may be required to teach or support maths and English GCSE or Functional Skills. I am aware that many post-16 providers are up-skilling their vocational staff to support maths and English development, as I have been involved with many programmes over the summer. We have been using the NCFE amplification materials and the Nelson Thornes Functional Skills in Context Workbooks to support these CPD programmes. We have learnt that if we get this right, learners will have the best of both worlds …subject specialists to deliver the more challenging aspects of the maths and English, with support from the vocational tutors so that learners apply the skills.

However for many of the smaller providers who may have been subcontracted to deliver apprenticeships or standalone English and maths, while they may have fewer overheads, they do not have sufficient financial resources for external training of their staff and cannot benefit from using specialist maths and English staff to support, as they don’t have them!

Inevitably most small training providers have adopted a model of up-skilling their vocational assessors to deliver functional skills. This is a laudable intention and I have worked with many vocational assessors who are achieving the functional skills qualifications themselves as a first step towards improving their own maths and English skills, with some moving forward to take the new level three awards in teaching maths and English that are now available. However, up-skilling staff is only the first hurdle. The vocational assessors will often have an hour or less a month with each apprentice to deliver the input needed. And so even if the vocation tutors have the skills to deliver the focused teaching learners need when they visit them, they haven’t the time available to ensure that each learner receives the input they need to be successful in maths and English.

And so what is the result of this? Look on the National Apprenticeship Service website. Many providers and employers are requiring that apprentices have either the relevant functional skill or the GCSE equivalent before they can apply for the apprenticeship, so that the providers don’t have to worry about the development of English and maths skills, thereby restricting access to over 50% of the likely candidates.

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