Further Education – Recovery, Re-engagement or Reinvention?

The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the Further Education and Training sector in various ways. In this article, Paul Kessell-Holland, National Head of Curriculum Design Projects at the ETF, explains the challenges experienced by both teaching and leadership staff, and how, through the Further Education Re-engagement & Recovery, the ETF aims to help the sector.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected everyone and everything in this country in one way or another. As part of this, adult and work-based education were impacted as institutions, but also as communities of staff and learners. The enormity of some changes– such as the overnight closure of an entire way of educating young people – may in time be overshadowed by less visible but equally challenging experiences. These impacts are all related, complex, sometimes hard to quantify, and very few will be ‘over’ any time soon.

The lived experiences of teaching and leadership staff during the months and years following the pandemic will be as important as the challenging situations faced during various lockdowns and shutdowns. There is no way to safely predict what we will face, and only by sharing knowledge and experiences can we hope to learn what support we need.

What impact will this bring?

Much has been made of the ‘new learners’ that will turn 16 in the coming years. The ‘class of 2021-22’ have not sat public examinations – what impact will this bring? Early feedback suggests they and their teachers alike are nervous about how they will fare with high stakes summative assessments. More worrying perhaps is how they and several years of school pupils following them have reacted to being taught online for a long period of time. How many of them found this positive? What really are their knowledge gaps? When will they emerge?

In the context of supporting these young people as they move into vocational and technical education, there may be rather different considerations for teaching and leadership staff, compared to those in schools. Some knowledge gaps may not be important for the aspirations of these young people. For instance, putting aside the duty to provide all young people with a good general education, it may not fall to a hairdressing teacher to address a lack of knowledge in the humanities. However, what will be essential for all young people is that they leave education with sufficient capacity in English, Maths and digital skills to succeed in their chosen career.

Re-engagement and recovery

More importantly, perhaps than any considerations of lost learning, may be issues of lost motivation and engagement. Helping young people to re-engage with education, to prepare for exams, and to re-learn how to learn and be assessed may be challenges that the sector grapples with for several years to come as pupils leave school and hope to leave their ‘covid schooling’ behind them.

It is essential that we help young people and providers alike recover from the challenges of Covid-19, but equally we need to remember to re-engage those most disaffected and in need of our support – whoever they are.

In the early days of the pandemic, the Education and Training Foundation recognised the immediate challenges facing the sector. We brought together in one place the best of what the sector does, under the banner #ETFSupportsFE.

We have now updated this webpage to focus on Further Education Re-engagement & Recovery. There will be regular spotlights on the page to focus on various key issues as they emerge. Our first ‘spotlight’ is on learner and staff wellbeing and mental health. This explores the support ETF and partner organisations are providing in this critical area and is recommended reading for anyone working across the sector. Future spotlight topics will include basic skills, as well as exam anxiety.

We hope our work in this area will play a part in positively re-inventing how we see education for current, and future, generations.

We want you to know that the ETF is listening. Please share with us what you are struggling with by taking this two-minute survey. You can also check out our new spotlight page with content updated regularly to respond to your ideas and needs.

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