The second UKFEchat National Conference will take place this month on Saturday 22nd October. If you did not attend last year, see here for some of the highlights from my blog post.
If you are interested in Further/ Vocational Education please come along to this fantastic event. You can purchase a ticket for a bargain price of £20! Click on here to see who is speaking and here for a ticket.
See you there!
I’ve spent many years caring for children and young people in both home and childcare settings before I entered into the world of teaching. Back in the ’90s I spent at least seven of those years working with young people with SEND. I’ve had the privilege to care and support some amazingly resilient young people who for one reason or another could no longer live within their family home. During this time I encountered a range of attitudinal barriers towards them. As their carer and advocate I’ve had to deal with these situations due to them being profoundly disabled and with limited communication skills.
Now seven years into teaching within Further Education, I find myself wondering if things have improved for our young people with SEND? Once they have left the security of their special school or support in mainstream some choose to enter FE. Not only will they be entering a different learning environment, they will also be dealing with that sometimes awkward transition from child to adult.
Those of us who teach know that no matter the age of a child, they can be cruel to others that they deem ‘different’ from themselves. I think as a teacher it gets harder to deal with once the students get older, as one assumes they should by now have a better understanding of what is morally right and wrong. My question is, will this ever improve? We can teach our students those ‘British values’ and give them ‘put yourself in their shoes’ opportunities, but if they are going home to negative attitudes towards those with SEND, will we ever break that cycle?
A few years ago I taught adults with SEND for a local council. These courses were based round developing independent living skills and understanding different relationships. Often the challenges they found were attitudes toward them, being taken advantage of and struggling to find employment. Further to this they had also expressed their concerns when they had entered FE settings. Sadly they had found it quite a daunting experience, primarily due to the size of the setting. Which was why they had chosen a more discreet adult learning course within the community. My groups were no more than ten and often the students that required support had to juggle weekly with the decision of their support helping them come to my session, or choosing them to help attend another weekly activity. Sadly as you can probably guess this was down to government cut backs on funding. I also found that it was important to ensure my lessons did not clash with school finishing times. Some of them accessed public transport and were keen to avoid being on the same bus due to the way they were treated.
This was only in 2009 and I don’t believe for one minute that things have drastically changed. If it has, please do say. So thinking back to my time both working in the care sector and adult learning community, I wonder if more could be done to help remove these attitudinal barriers? Are we really doing enough? Maybe if we could work a little harder and conjointly on some areas, we might start helping improve outcomes for our SEND students?
Start from the beginning
I know some local primary settings have worked in partnership with local SEND schools and children have mingled and swapped classroom environments. However I know from personal experience that although the children are more than happy to participate in this initiative, it is often the parents that are the ones with the issues. I’ve overheard in the past parents discussing why they are refusing to let their children take part in the initiative, because “they might catch something!” So although it is a good idea to help young children explore each other’s learning environments and break down those barriers. We also need to educate their parent/ carers too.
Liaise with all feeder schools
From an FE point of view I think we need a more consistent approach to liaise with all local schools. We need to understand the educational environment they are used to and they need to understand what education is like in an FE environment. Without doing this how can we help improve outcomes?
Zero tolerance from the start
We all carefully plan our induction week in our colleges and want it to be a positive introduction into FE. In addition to this we are also mindful that we do not bombard our students with a list of ‘dos and dont’s’. However, I think right from the start a greater emphasise needs to be given to attitudes towards one another. I know the focus in FE this year has been based round British Values and Protect, but maybe we need to go right back to basics?
These are just my own personal observations. If anyone has anything further to add or say please do so in the comment section.
The other week I had the opportunity to meet with Mike Harwood from the Education and Training Foundation. This meeting was a chance for myself as a SET member to ask about keys areas in the report I had received late December 2015.
The areas I quizzed Mike over were as follows –
Maths and English
The ETF has been offering Maths and English enhancement course for practitioners. I attended one myself last year. I have to say it was worth attending, it helped me look at the differences between GCSE and Functional Skills. Further on they are now spearheading a reform on functional skills (see here for further information). What I wanted to know was what support could be given to not just ensure good quality teaching was delivered to the students, but what they were going to do about the pressure FE has to churn out results at lightening speed. Nobody wants to teach to the test but the funding pressure is immense and many teachers are feeling the strain. Mike explained he understood this having taught in the sector for many years himself. The ETF want to improve the standard of maths and English and this would include how it needs to be taught.
The ETF are investing in leadership (see here) so I asked how would developing existing leaders help those of us on the ‘shop floor’? How will we benefit? FE is renowned for having too many middle leaders. Mike explained that it would be about developing their leadership skills and would in turn have a positive impact on the rest of the staff team. There is also going to be something developed for teachers own leadership skills within the classroom. In addition the ETF will be looking at supporting staff that wish to progress into leadership roles.
Support is also being given to leaders by the ETF during these Area Reviews. Focusing on checking standards and ways to ensure they are at the very best level. Furthermore there is support for all professionals via SET.
Support for practitioners
One of the many areas the ETF are offering support for is using technology (see here) for teaching and learning. The ETF have used the recommendations from FELTAG and are now working alongside JISC to support this in FE. I asked Mike would this mean they would be looking at the real key issues for us, as in time to explore the technology we are given? Furthermore, whatever we use is not simply a fancy gimmick that ticks the technology box. Mike said they were looking at running CPD courses in conjunction with the online ones they offer. He was onboard with what I was saying and agreed that time to experiment was vital if it was going to be used to support teaching and learning. He also took note of what type of training format would be best for these potential courses. All we want as teachers is to have access to a range resources and time to experiment using them. Also we need more autonomy in what we use, after all we know our students better than anyone!
QTLS has always been a bone of contention for me and I know for many other FE teachers too. So I wanted to know how the ETF were doing with this one. I have written about this before in a past post (see here). Mike says that they are aware that the IFL’s process was not overly popular. Therefore the ETF have taken feedback from practitioners and are working on strengthening the value of QTLS as well as the process. They hope to have a more robust and worthy form of QTLS by 2016.
Finally Mike also went on to discuss apprenticeships, due to a big shift in focus on them by the government. If you wish to read more on what support is being given for apprenticeship and training see here.
I am grateful to Mike for giving me his time to discuss this review report, and for David Russell for offering me the opportunity to discuss it with an ETF representative. I am left feeling quite positive about ETF and SET compared to over a year ago. There is still a long way to go to help raise the professional status of FE and other lifelong learning establishments, but the ETF are clearly moving forward on this.