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It’s difficult to know where to start with this month’s wrap – after a barrage of high profile stories in the media, notably 21 schools investigated in Birmingham, otherwise known as the ‘Trojan horse inquiry’ and the Gove/May debacle, we’d be forgiven for thinking nothing else has been going on in the world of education. But of course there is! Here’s our pick of a few stories that caught our eye over the last month.


The AoC Gold Awards

The Association of Colleges (AoC) Charitable Trust’s Gold Awards were handed out earlier this month at the Houses of Parliament.

It caught our eye because it’s a great way to promote college education, the awards celebrate the achievements of former college students who have gone on to excel in their chosen careers.

This year it included former Formula 1 driver Martin Brundle, chef Anton Piotrowski and Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, Gloria De Piero MP.

The online report by the AoC said: “At AoC, we’ve been shouting for all to hear that going to college does not put you at a disadvantage to those who choose other educational avenues.  Just ask Oscar winning actor Colin Firth or the Executive Director for Financial Stability at the Bank of England, Spencer Dale.

Students from all walks of life sometimes need encouragement and inspiration to motivate them and ensure they reach their potential.  The winners of our Gold Awards do that, by showing what can be achieved through a combination of hard work, determination and the support of their college at the start of their journey.”

Beyond the awards the AoC is also celebrating current students, through their Future Stars programme.  The Future Stars all have similar career aspirations as their Gold Award winners and symbolise the continuing excellent support that colleges are providing today’s students.


Vocational education and training needs shouting about

Jan Hodges OBE, chief executive of the Edge Foundation, used the opportunity of VQ Day 2014 (Vocational Qualifications Day) to argue on the Guardian website that number 1; vocational qualifications will almost certainly became as important, if not more important, than A Levels and degrees in the coming years and 2; that they need a bit of an image make-over and better publicity to give students more choice in Further Education.

In a report commissioned by the Edge Foundation it predicts that in the next decade 90% of the top jobs will be attained via vocational qualifications (In 2022 the top three in-demand occupations will be in health and care the report says, and traditional skilled trades will remain in high demand. Over the next eight years nearly half a million workers will be required in skilled construction trades from bricklayers, to renewable energy geothermal pump installers)

However, Hodges writes: “Further research by the Edge Foundation earlier this year found that many vocational students felt that their schools and parents did not support their decision to pursue vocational study. There is evidently a perception issue when it comes to vocational education; it has become viewed by some as a second-tier offering.”

But with tuition fees rising, making university increasingly costly and less attractive to students, she is right to point out that the tide may be turning.

“Vocational education is undergoing an image change. As education professionals, our job is to encourage availability of knowledge and information about all options available to students…

… We need to loudly and publicly extol the sheer variety and quality of education options. There is a huge array of courses available, but this will remain insider knowledge if confined to the pages of academic trade publications. We need to rethink our communications and refresh our approach to those as yet untouched by our message. We need to celebrate not only the traditional vocational trades, but the unusual ones as well. From floristry to accounting, aeronautical engineering to personal training, we need to open the doors on vocational education.”

Hodges also points out that one of the biggest challenges is making sure schools tell their students and parents about vocational options, although sometimes this doesn’t happen because schools with sixth-forms can see colleges as competitors.

VQ Day 2014 was a great opportunity to tell stories of real people and real businesses benefiting from vocational qualifications – a start on the right track to promoting vocational education and demonstrating it as a viable and positive alternative (not a second rate alternative) to A Levels and degrees.


Lessons from America – colleges working in partnership like never seen before in the UK

A comment piece on FE News caught our eye, written by deputy principal of Milton Keynes College Nick Isles.

Isles was lucky enough to join a group of UK FE and HE colleagues to visit Chicago, Illinois and Michigan to find out how the US system works and is coping with globalisation.

What he found was a system in which colleges were working extremely closely with each other to offer the best and widest education options for the local community.

Isles said the sheer degree of collaboration ‘took his breath away’.

City of Colleges Chicago (CCC) is responsible for coordinating curriculum innovation and development in order to meet the needs of the city’s various growth industries – therefore ensuring businesses are getting enough highly trained graduates to fill their positions – whilst giving young people the best opportunity to gain qualifications that will lead to a job.

The project called ‘Reinvention’ looks at data on where the jobs are likely to come from over the next 10 years, and then determines which college in the group will develop which specialism to serve that demand.

“This is a form of partnership and planning the UK can only dream of,” writes Isles. “The US is clear that to serve the demand side properly then partnership, institutional collaboration and smart clustering are all parts of the necessary infrastructure. It is not enough just to simply create new institutions. What is required is organisation of the supply side so that it really becomes an interested partner for the demand side in a way the demand side can easily understand.”

Isle suggests that we could emulate much of this in the UK by using the new Local Enterprise Partnerships to create a framework to enable it. However he questions whether everyone would really play ball. It would turn competition within FE here in the UK on its head.


Trojan Horse: A glorious social media display of true #BritishValues

We couldn’t resist sharing this as a fun ending to the wrap…anyone closely following Twitter at the time would, not doubt, have seen this.

The Trojan Horse inquiry was obviously a serious incident, and quite rightly given wide media coverage, however in true British style, those on Twitter couldn’t help picking up on the side story that education minister Michael Gove announced schools would be required to teach “British values” to their students.

Queue a barrage of fantastically funny suggestions from the twitterati on what might constitute the teaching of ‘British Values’.

The Times Education Supplement offered this fantastic round-up of the best 10 but here are our favourites.

@M0by_Duck put this timetable together for his class 

@yokelbear, a lecturer at a college in Oxford, suggested that under Gove’s new plan, lessons “will now include ‘passive aggressive tutting’ and ‘sighing wistfully at the Shipping forecast’”

Combining the British love of grammar and our love for a pun, @HelenMilburn tweeted a picture of the “Pedants’ Revolt”.