Self-improving system project - An introduction

Welcome! 

I am leading a collaborative project with the FE sector on how we could envisage and then create a self-improving system in FE.

I would love to hear personally from as many people as possible who work in or around Further Education in England – or beyond! You can email me on david.russell@etfoundation.co.uk

The purpose of my project is to try to evolve a collective understanding of what a self-improving FE system could look like, and how we could get from here to there. Sounds easy, right?! 

The idea of a self-improving system is very familiar in the schools policy world, and has been for over a decade. It’s also familiar in management thinking and organisational design. It’s not the answer to all problems, but it is a powerful way of thinking about an area of human endeavour – like a national education system – and re-imagining it through 21st century lenses of understanding, not 20th century models of production and consumption. It focuses on the interdependency of the people and processes– typically using ecological metaphors more than mechanistic ones. 

I believe that FE is stuck, and has been for some years now. I’ve worked in, on and around the FE system for nearly 25 years, and I’ve come to believe that there are features ‘baked in’ to how it operates that stop it being as brilliant collectively as the people in it are individually. It is bursting with talented, dedicated, skilful teachers, trainers, leaders, governors and staff in so many diverse roles; but I believe that the structure and behaviours of the FE system hold them back and limit their collective effectiveness, instead of boosting and elevating them. It’s nobody’s fault; but it is everybody’s responsibility. 

Watch David’s video introduction to the project.

In April 2022, I was set the challenge of taking on a project – supported by the world-class resources and convening power of Oxford University’s Saïd Business School – to try to set out a picture of a different way we can be as an FE system. I was delighted to accept. 

The more voices that contribute to the project, the richer and stronger it will become. So if you have any views, experiences or even questions about the topic of a Self-Improving FE System, please email me at david.russell@etfoundation.co.uk. I promise to reply, and we will take it from there! 


David Russell

Executive in Residence at Oxford Saïd Business School 
Education and Training Foundation      

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