My first teacher was Miss Armstrong; she taught me to tie my shoelaces, recite the Lords Prayer with precision and how to grow Broad Beans in a jar.
She also taught me the power of educational policy. I was naturally left-handed, which to Miss Armstrong and educational theorists of the time was an abomination. She tied my left hand to the back of the chair when we practised our looping, swooping handwriting skills on stiff manuscript paper with pale blue lines. This was perfectly acceptable to the school, my parents and even to me. If right-handedness was the key to learning, I would be right-handed. I didn’t question it. No one questioned educational theory or teachers.
Over the years so many educational, teaching or learning theories and methods have appeared, briefly flared and thankfully faded, although some remain. 'Learning Styles'; Kinesthetic, Verbal, Visual, VAK questionnaires, Active Learning, rote-learning, chalk and talk, accessing skills, critical thinking, higher order skills, learning to learn, lifelong learning, meta-cognitive, problem solving and teaching for understanding. (instead of teaching for …) Hmm. There are hundreds more.
At first glance this appears insane. In twenty years or so teaching has undergone so many changes of direction it is incredible to think that not only have we and the learners survived this but we’ve taught more and learned more. We now question the validity and purpose of educational theorists and policy makers. We evaluate, select and apply to benefit the learners and the subject; we no longer blanket bomb all learners with the same approach. Questioning and discussion lead to higher standards, collaborative working and new directions.
Questioning has informed F.E. practice. Standards have risen, students access higher and vocational education alongside academic, sharing of good practice takes place between industry and colleges, apprentices thrive and more is done with the latest buzz of ‘Enterprise, Entrepreneurship and Education’.
F.E. has undergone similar multitudinous changes in funding, governance and direction. Some work, some don’t; so isn’t it a sign of maturity to think about and debate the future of F.E. rather than react to or be pushed into changes? To come together and set our own agenda for future growth and direction?
So why, when I tweeted that the #ukfechat topic might be ‘The future of FE’ did I receive a tweet saying ‘the CEO
said … that 'future of FE?' is "nonsensical question". Talked
of VET, HE & community etc.’
Given that we are 20 years old and have weathered the onslaught of changes (financial, political and educational), isn’t it right that we debate the future of F.E.? Someone else tweeted ‘the structural reform needed to get to that in govt would take five years min.. and another 10 for colleges to change (rather than just dance round the funding streams in same form) To ensure we're going the right way, don't we all take a holistic view of the map sometimes, ensuring that the way ahead isn't too mountainous, or twisty and that the journey is smooth?
We’re debating because we care; we’re not Ostriches with our heads firmly buried in the policy sands of education, blinkered to the concerns of those suffering the brunt of zero hour contracts, additional teaching loads in unfamiliar subjects and subject to changes that come thick and fast to the form, function and focus of teaching the next generation.
If we raise our concerns and ideas, debate them honestly and openly, can we hope that those who do set policy; have influence and ability to shape the focus of F.E., will recognise our commitment to and love of F.E. and incorporate them into their thinking?
F.E. is the best place to work in the world. We love it and care passionately about it and our learners. Questioning its future direction is prudent and indicative of our commitment to it.
To not plan or debate the future of such an important institution is ‘nonsensical’ and frankly, of some concern to those who do love it.