More than words; why there’s no substitute for seeing for yourself

By Jenny Jarvis, Interim CEO of the Education and Training Foundation.

Jenny Jarvis portrait

Hearing about the on-the-ground impact of the Education and Training Foundation’s activity is one of the most gratifying aspects of my role and I enjoy the many case studies, blogs and evaluation reports that come across my desk highlighting its value. The difference we help colleagues across the sector make is the reason we exist.

But as much as I enjoy reading about the value of our activity, there’s no substitute for getting out to see it for myself. And to that end, I’m very pleased to say that I am currently in the midst of a series of visits that will take in independent training providers, general and specialist colleges and adult community learning providers as well as the richness of the range of institutions and organisations that deliver in the FE and training sector.

I’ve already had the pleasure of visiting four colleges since I started my interim CEO role – including New City College, Walsall College and Barnsley College – and discussing their challenges and priorities and how we might support them further. The breadth and variety of the discussions we had – which took in topics including safeguarding, support for middle leaders, engagement with local employers and the importance of a whole-college, digitally-focused mindset – was a reminder of the cocktail of local and national issues we face.

Most recently, I visited South Essex College. There, I had the opportunity to learn more about how it has used the Taking Teaching Further (TTF) programme to recruit individuals from industry into teaching careers and was lucky enough to meet some of those making that switch.

What has been achieved at South Essex is impressive. In terms purely of numbers, attracting 23 skilled professionals from industry to become teachers across the previous rounds of TTF is no mean feat. I’m certain, given what we know about the recruitment challenges that already existed and that have been underlined by our recent research, that there will be many other institutions who would welcome such an influx of new talent, skills and experience.

What struck me most about South Essex’s engagement with Taking Teaching Further, though, was how it had thought carefully about the wraparound support that would be required to ensure it was effective. It had, very clearly, gone the extra mile, with engagement in reflective practice and with the Society for Education and Training’s Professional Standards, a strong focus on supporting Initial Teacher Education, and bespoke CPD provision to help new teachers tackle challenging elements of their role such as managing difficult classroom behaviours. What’s more, it was clear that the strong support was coming not just from the college itself, but also the other TTF trainees, and this was something that really helped with retention of new recruits.

Speaking with the trainees themselves was also illuminating. We hear frequently about the value of those coming from industry to the FE and Training sector. And that view was reinforced by our conversations, in which trainees told us they felt that learners being able to see them as one of them – for instance as a plumber or electrician – on top of their ability to transfer knowledge of the latest industry practice and thinking, created respect.

The individual experiences of the recruits also reinforced the value of the wraparound support provided by South Essex. They made clear that support – particularly around classroom and behaviour management and the exchange of ideas with other teachers – had been invaluable. And I use the word ‘invaluable’ advisedly – one recruit told us that after a tough start which had left them contemplating quitting in the first couple of months, the support and reassurance they had received had helped them overcome the barriers they’d come up against and they had decided to continue.

What was also clear was that Taking Teaching Further was setting entrants up for a career in teaching that would stretch way beyond simply being recruited. I expected to hear some things about the value of the programme – the way it enables an initially lighter teaching programme and the confidence it gives recruits to take a test and learn approach; the things we often see in feedback – and I wasn’t disappointed. But we also heard about long-term ambitions that TTF recruits believed could be realised. One, who had some previous coaching experience, was already planning to undertake QTLS (Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills) status and had already made a firm, career-long commitment to education.

The visit was really inspiring. While there’s no doubt that the sector faces a recruitment and retention challenge, and that there’s no magic wand that can be waved to solve it overnight, seeing what is being achieved at South Essex was a buoying reminder of the impact we can have when we work together.

It is clear that we must keep working to address the way that working and teaching in FE and Training is sometimes perceived, and in doing so, bridge that gap between industry and education so that expertise from industry is recruited and retained.

But it’s also clear that, by working together to support one another and ensuring that colleagues are accessing the professional development they need, we can achieve that goal. What South Essex has achieved is evidence of that.

If you’re facing the challenge of recruiting technical teachers, I encourage you to find out more about how Taking Teaching Further can help you.

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