Founded in 1977 the Further Education Unit with Geoff Melling its first chairman when Geoff returned to the inspectorate Jack Mansell was then appointed in 1980 to head up the Unit and soon proved to be an excellent director having an in-depth knowledge of the FE sector. The purpose of the Unit was to advise on, and support research into, curriculum, learning and teaching matters associated with further education and was to be an independent agency from government even though it was funded by the DES. According to Geoff Melling the FEU was floated at the back of the Government document on the Unified Vocational Preparation (UVP which the government thought the FEU would be the agency to help develop the initiative. At the beginning the Unit had very limited resources but was able to establish effective and equal working relationships with the main awarding bodies e.g. CGLI, RSA and the then developing TEC, BEC and DATEC. The initial focus of the Unit’s work was pre-vocational provision which at this time received little attention from the main stream awarding bodies and indeed the FE sector. Three groups had been identified in colleges namely the youth unemployed (YUs), the young stayers-ons (YSOs) and the young workers (YWs) – sorry about the clumsy expressions they were the ones used at the time. The Unit and its publications greatly added influenced the development of pre-vocational curriculum. The Unit was acutely aware of the dearth of support for staff in FE on issues such as staff and curriculum development. The Unit was also one of the driving forces in the creation of Regional Curriculum Bases (RCBs) and Experimental Colleges (ECs). The Unit cleverly adopted both a pro-active and reactive stance on many issues although it must be said that the DES did not always welcome the FEU’s interventions or pronouncements. Clearly the Unit was established before the Manpower Services Commission (MSC) which when created impacted greatly on the Unit’s work and required the Unit to being a much larger organisation. However the Unit achieved a great deal in supporting the development of such initiatives as CPVE, PICKUP, REPLAN et.al. Another great feature of the FEU was the staff very knowledgeable, professional, very approachable and committed to the FE sector and its work. It was always a pleasure to meet with them at conferences/seminars or when they visited your college and many became friends. Also there was buzz when an FEU publication arrived in the college library/learning resources centre staff would be mentioning it to colleagues and discussing its content which reinforced the high regard the Unit and its work were held. The Unit developed an effective communications systems with colleges through its reports, bulletins etc. And staff genuinely valued the Unit and its work.
When Jack Mansell retired Geoff Stanton was appointed as Director again an excellent appointment who continued to provide valuable support to the FE sector until its demise.
Examples of some of the seminal publications in the form of reports, news-sheets, bulletins etc. by FEU is shown below. A remarkable archive with many of the publications being as relevant today as when they were first published. I still have many of these publications and find them an invaluable resource.
Some examples of FEU publications:
A Basis of Choice (ABC) -a seminal document (1979)- this was focused on the Young stayer-ons, ABC in Action (1981), A Common Core of Skills for Vocational Preparation (1982), Active Learning (1978), An introduction to the FE Unit (1993), Aspects of CPVE (1986), Assessment of Prior Learning and Experience (1990), Beyond Coping (1980), Black Students and Access to HE (1987), Continuous Professional Development (1981), Core competences in engineering (1985), CPVE (1985), CPVE and NVQ (1987), Day Release (1980), Developing Tutoring Skills (1985), Engineering Education (1984), Examinations and Assessment (1990), Experience, Reflection and Learning (1981)- this was focused on Young Workers, Extending TVEI (1985), FEU response to the New Training Initiative (1981), FEU response to Examinations 16-19 (1980), Higher Skills (), FE and YTS (1985), Language in teaching and learning (1977), Post-16 TVEI (1985), Progressing for Vocational Preparation (1982), 17+ (1982), 17+ a new pre-vocational qualification (1982), 16-19 The FE Contribution (1977), Supporting YOP (19979)-this was focused on the Young Unemployed, The Unit in FE (1978), Tradec (1983), Understanding Accreditation (1992), Vocational Education and Training (1990).
The FEU was merged with the Further Education Staff College (FESC/Coombe Lodge), see later pen portrait, in 1995 and a single publically funded body was founded namely The Learning and Skills Development Agency (LSDA) that supported FE in England. Then in 2006 its functions were separated into the Quality Improvement Agency (QIA) and the Learning and Skills Network (LSN) and its trading subsidiary Inspire Learning (also known as The Centre for Excellence in Leadership (CEL). LSDA was to support post-16 education in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Inspire Learning and the QIA were re-absorbed into the same corporate body, the Learning and Skills Improvement Service in October 2008.Scotland had its own organisation to support post-16 education.
I will write other pen portraits of organisations that supported and worked with colleges in the near future.