‘Experience plus reflection equals learning.’ John Dewey
This is a powerful and apposite quotation by John Dewey which resonates with many of the issues that arise when one is considering how to make the technical and vocational curriculum in schools and colleges more relevant and meaningful. Recently the term functionality has been introduced into educational and training jargon. In curriculum development functionality is equally as important as context to which it is closely linked especially in the teaching and learning of practical, vocational and technical subjects. The curriculum developers have adopted the term ‘functional subjects’ to ‘represent a set of learning experiences that provide people with skills and abilities in order for them to be more effective in everyday life, the workplace and educational settings’ QCA – all a bit general. As the skills agenda becomes more important across the world many countries are now focusing on the need to review and reform school and post-school curricula in order to make them more relevant and meaningful for people entering the world of work. Employers in particular want to see a more vocationally and technically focused curriculum in schools and colleges that more effectively prepares people for employment. In this country functional skills and the associated qualifications are aimed at providing learners with practical skills in English, Information Technology (ICT) and Mathematics.
The government argues that the functional skills qualifications will be useful for: ‘ learners: will develop solving skills which will make sure that they’re well prepared for employment, further study and life in general, employers: help employees apply vital functional skills in work situations which will improve effectiveness and productivity, HE: competency in the key subjects of English, ICT and mathematics will help learners progress to further achievement and allow them to study independently.’ (All very worthy but as always the devil will be in the detail and the implementation!). The government, as also its predecessor, has created a strategy to address employability needs for the country in order to begin to address the woeful state of people’s skills. The OECD survey (2009) paints a bleak picture of this country’s performance when compared with 30 advanced industrial nations e.g. 17th for basic skills (Functional literacy, ICT and mathematics) 20th for intermediate skills (Technical and craft skills, for example, in advanced apprenticeships) and 11th in higher (Degree and post graduate programmes). The latest study from OECD in 2010, (known as the PISA survey (Programme for International Student Assessment), showed Britain slipping further down the international education league tables The country was ranked 25th for reading, 28th for mathematics and 16th for science. The study involved 470,000 15 year olds and the corresponding numbers for 2006 were 17th, 24th and 14th respectively. These figures sadly reflect and reinforce the decline in the effectiveness of the English educational and training system and align with the situation given in the history of technical education on this website. The country is now in absolute decline after years of relative decline in international league tables!
I will focus on functional mathematics for this article as the subject is central to technical and commercial education and training as it is aimed at improving the understanding and appreciation of the application of mathematics and numerical concepts in the workplace. Any curriculum experience must surely begin to build the foundations that are able to tackle the continuing problems associated with technical and technician education and training that will once and for produce a more qualified and skilled workforce for the future.
As always such initiatives become politicised and embroiled in the old arguments about the academic vocational divide and pure versus applied subjects and the issue of achieving parity of esteem. The genesis of the term is itself interesting: some commentators say a key advisor in the previous government thought of it and qualified it by saying ‘no other country has used the term.’ – that really is a good rationale for any development – such is the paucity of intellect in the political classes?! The term has in fact been around for some time and its development and use well documented particularly in Europe. Since the appearance of the term functional mathematics in 2006/07 a flurry of activity has been focused on trying to define it, where to locate it in the curriculum, and whether it should be for all learners or just a particular group of learners. It’s a classic case example of the English education system – a multitude of individuals, professional organisations and working groups beavering away without any real understanding of what is really required. Couple this with frequent government interference, with their advisors putting forward their own narrow and ill-informed opinions, and you have a recipe for disaster. As a result of all this activity on a critical and important development, a bandwagon has been created with a great deal of momentum but little idea where it is going and, equally important, what it will do if it arrives somewhere! I fear the change of government will not improve the situation if one looks at what is already happening about to the development of the so-called vocational diplomas and their relative value to the so-called academic subjects e.g. GCE ‘A’ levels.
The major challenge with the introduction of functional mathematics is that the context and content must be realistic and derived from the realities of life and the work place and equally important applied to those realities. As a result an important element in functional mathematics concerns how it can be learnt. Effective and sustained learning will not be achieved through simulation or a pre-occupation with testing and assessment. It is essential that the appropriate contexts for the learning are carefully defined and managed (see article on context on this website). Functional mathematics must have universal application and available to all learners including undergraduate and post-graduate students. Learners must gain an understanding of ‘functionality’ both in terms of the ‘how’ and of the ‘why’. Functional mathematics must involve such elements as reflection, critical thought, reasoning, and problem solving. Process and thinking skills must be at the heart of this development. It must not be driven by heavily prescribed assessment regimes and must be relevant and delivered in realistic contexts and most certainly not be hi- jacked by the academics and pure mathematicians who have little understanding of technical and commercial environments.
The final challenge facing the introduction of an effective programme of functional mathematics will be those associated with the teacher’s ability to deliver the subject and the availability of the right resources and support for them. In order to introduce new curricula teachers have to fundamentally review and reflect on their teaching styles and practices. Such analysis must include the reasons for what is taught, what you can use it for, why it is taught and how you can apply it. Any curriculum experience is not just about the syllabus and how it is interpreted but is also about the learning and teaching styles adopted in the appropriate contexts, whilst maximising the available resources to facilitate effective learning. The most important resources are the teachers and they will need a great deal of support in order to introduce the subject. Sadly the shortage of sufficiently qualified mathematics teachers in schools and colleges coupled with the fact that many do not possess any real experience of teaching to the specifications that will define and figure in functional mathematics will create a massive set of challenges. Capability in handling mathematical concepts and their application in realistic contexts cannot be over emphasised as someone who has taught technical subjects I realise the centrality of the subject in this sector of education and training.
Final quote for curriculum developers:
Any judgement on the value of any curriculum experience is its functionality – namely the outcomes achieved.’
Dissenting academies played an important part and made a major contribution to the development of the English educational system from the mid-17th to the 19th centuries. The academies were colleges, seminaries and schools run by religious dissenters. Non-practising members of the Church of England people/religious dissenters were barred from gaining access to the then existing universities. As a result many people went abroad to study or attended Scottish University’s. Below I list the dissenting academies in England and Wales with approximate dates of their foundation and locations. The list is not complete but will hopefully convey the scale and scope of these fascinating institutions. The students who attended the academies represented such religions as Jews, Nonconformist Protestants, Quakers and Roman Catholics. (I guess that the title of academy came from Plato’s school of philosophy and his subsequent influence on philosophical thought stressing the importance of being sceptical).
Academies primary purpose was to provide higher education during the 19th century but ultimately the long overdue reforms by Oxford and Cambridge were introduced and more importantly the founding of London University and the university colleges/provincial universities gradually removed their need and purpose. However they represent an important and influential movement in the development of education in England and Wales and their importance should not be underestimated.
Academy/Location/Date of approximate founding:
Abergavenny/Wales/1757. Alcester/Midlands/foundation unknown closed 1720. Attercliffe/North/1691. Bedworth/Midlands/1690. Bishop’s Hall Academy, Bethnal Green/London/1680. Bristol/South West/1720. Bolton/North/1723. Bridgenorth/Midlands/1726.Bridgewater/South West/foundation unknown closed 1747. Broad Oak/Wales/1690. Bromsgrove (or Stourbridge) /Midlands/1665. Brynllywarch near Bridgend/Wales/1757. Carmarthen/Wales/1700. Cheshunt, Higham Hill/Walthamstow/1790. Coventry/Midlands/1663. Dartmouth/South West/1668. Exeter (a number of academies had the same name/South West/1760. Findern (afterwards at Derby)/Midlands/foundation unknown closed 1754. Gloucester/South/1696. Gosport/South/1789. Heckmondwyke (merged with Rotherham College)/North/1756. Hoxton Square/ London moved from Coventry/1700. Hungerford/South/1696. Idle (became Airedale Independent College in 1826)/1800. Ipswich/Suffolk/1698. Islington (a number of institutions under the same name established (x2)/London/1672. Kendal/Lakedistrict/1733. Knill/Wales/1675. Lincoln/Midlands/1668. Lyme Regis (moved to Shepton Mallett and then Poole)/South West/1690. Manchester/North/1698. Market Harborough (moved to Mile End, London)/Midlands/1758. Mill Hill/London/foundation unknown closed 1701. Nettlebed/Oxfordshire/1666. New College/ Hackney, London/1786. Newington Green (a number of institutions under the same name established(x3))/ London/ 1667. Newport Pagnell, (later merged with Cheshunt)/Midlands/1783. Northampton/Midlands/1715. Nottingham/Midlands/1680. Ottery St Mary/South West/1752. Sherriffhales/Midlands/1663. Palgrave Academy/Suffolk/1775. Rathmell/North/1669. Saffron Walden/Essex/1680. Wapping/London/1675. Shrewsbury/Midlands/1663. Stratford-on-Avon/Midlands/1715. Sulby/Midlands/1680.Tubney/South/1668. Taunton/South West/1672. Tewkesbury/South West/1680. Tiverton/South West/dates unknown. Wapping/London/1675. Warrington/North/1757. Wellclose Square (Coward Trust) (moved to Hoxton Square in 1762)/London/1744. Whitehaven (moved to Bolton 1723)/North/1710. Whitchurch/Midlands/1668. Wickhambrook/Suffolk/1670.
New College /London – This was a Congregational academy formed by the amalgamation of Daventry Academy as Coward College, Highgate Academy and the Homerton College. 1850to 1900. Became part of University of London in 1900.
Northampton –Started at Kibworth moved to Hinckley, Market Harborough and in 1729 to Northampton. In 1752 moved to Daventry and then back to Northampton.
Idle became Airedale Independent College in 1826. From 1834 in Undercliffe and from 1877 in Bradford. In 1888 Rotherham and Airedale became Yorkshire United College, Bradford.
Warrington Academy 1757-1783. Library moved to Manchester New College, in 1783 moved York, Manchester and London. At one stage Harris Manchester College. Oxford. (See pages on this website site for more information on the Warrington Academy).
Ottery St Mary started by Congregational Board with representation from Bridford, Taunton, Exeter, Plymouth and Bristol.
Newington Green judged by many as the best of the academies. Charles Morton tutor – subjects taught included, mathematics, natural sciences and well equipped laboratory.
Attercliffe Academy established by Richard Frankland.
Some Famous People (Tutors, former Students) Associated with Dissenting Academies:
Benjamin Disraeli, Daniel Defoe, Samuel Wesley, Joseph Priestley, John Dalton, Richard Frankland. Charles Morton. John Locke.
With the progress of science in the 17th century in such subjects as astronomy, anatomy, mechanics and physiology along with the multitude of inventions and the improvement of scientific instruments e.g. telescopes, microscopes, came a growing interest of science and its associated technologies. Many groups were established during the 17th century to disseminate and gain greater understanding of the developments in science and in some cases the technologies that arose from them. A number of independent, scientifically minded people and university people established a private and informal group that became known as the ‘the Invisible College’/ ‘the philosophical college’/’ the men of Gresham’. The Invisible College was based on Francis Bacon’s principles that knowledge is power and that all knowledge has been given for use, and the relief of man’s state (and not for its own sake). (See below more background to Baconian philosophy and thinking). The aim of the College was to acquire knowledge through experimental investigation. Sadly little is known of this group even though it is seen by many as a precursor/predecessor to the Royal Society for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge (later called the Royal Society). An account of its founding was written by one of its original members John Wallis (1616-1703) who wrote ‘I take its first ground and foundation to have been in London about the year 1645 (if not sooner) when Dr Wilkins, Dr Jonathan Goddard –with myself and some others met weekly —– confining ourselves thereunto as Physick, Anatomy, Geometry, Astronomy, Navigation, Mechanics and Natural Experiments’. These topics reflected the interests and specialisms of many of the members e.g. Robert Moray, Robert Boyle, John Evelyn, Benjamin Worsley, Christopher Wren, Jonathan Goddard and William Petty. and a number of medical doctors. Meetings were held at a variety of locations including Goddard’s house in Cheapside, the Mitre Tavern near Wood Street. Later they met at the Bull Head Tavern and at Katherine Jones (1615-1691) house and Gresham College (1597-present) in Bishopsgate. Katherine was an intellectual in her own right as well as being Robert Boyle’s elder sister. In addition to their interest in science the group were concerned with what they termed social improvement through education, scientific advance and technology and acquiring knowledge through experimental investigation.
Even though little is known about the invisible college its influence cannot be under estimated. For example it inspired the imagination of the young Robert Boyle and fuelled his commitment, enthusiasm and interest in natural philosophy and science. Boyle was the youngest of the members becoming a member a year after its foundation. Robert Boyle is now seen as one of the founders of modern chemistry. He became aware of the invisible college when he visited London and subsequently wrote to his former tutor Isaac Marcombe extolling how the group had got him interested in natural philosophy, the mechanics and husbandry’. These studies were ‘according to the principles of our new philosophical college, that values no knowledge, but as it hath a tendency to use’. (Note the Baconian principle cited above). He invited his former tutor to attend one of the meetings of the College writing ‘bring along with you good receipts or choice books of any of these subjects that you can procure; which will make you extremely welcome at our invisible college’. In another letter letter to Francis Tallents (fellow at Magdalene College Cambridge) he wrote ‘the corner stone of the invisible, or the philosophical college, do now and then honour me with their company —men of so capacious and searching spirits, that school-philosophy is but the lowest region of their knowledge’. The group barred all ‘discussion of Divinity, of State- affairs and of News other than what concerned our business of Philosophy’).
Around 1648/49 Petty, Wilkins, Wallis and Goddard moved to Oxford and formed a branch of the Invisible College. Their decampment from London followed one of the first acts of Parliament in the early days of the Commonwealth which was the ‘purgation’ of the universities. Senior people were removed and ‘safer men’ appointed in their place. Meetings in London continued while meetings in Oxford were held at Petty’s house and later at Wadham College. Both groups continued to communicate with each other and held joint meetings whenever possible. The London group met at Gresham College until 1658 when it discontinued because of the civil war. In 1660 Monk’s army entered London and restored order and the meetings resumed in the same year. Following the Restoration the London and Oxford groups resumed their activities and at the end of 1660 it was resolved to constitute themselves as a Society of Philosophers. Later discussions proposed the establishment of a college for promoting ‘Physico-Mathematical Experimental Learning’ and a set of rules were drawn up including that meetings should be held weekly and a one shilling fee paid each week to cover expenses. One important meeting was on 28th November 1660 following a lecture by Wren on astronomy held at Gresham College. Subsequently Robert Moray was mandated by the Society to approach the King to seek a more formal structure for the group and a possible Royal Charter of Incorporation to be conferred on it. Following negotiations the Royal Society for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge was created receiving the Great Seal on 15th July 1662. So the invisible college with its two groups in London and Oxford and the support of Gresham College is now seen as the precursor for the Royal Society. Gresham College shown below in 1740 from an engraving.
More Detail about the members:
John Wallis 1616-1703. (Professor of geometry at Oxford). Samuel Foster 1616-1652. (Mathematician and Professor of anatomy at Gresham College). (See history pages of this website for more detail about Gresham College). John Evelyn 1620-1706. (Diarist, Writer). Jonathan Goddard 1617-1675. (Physician). Benjamin Worsley 1618-1673. (Physician and Experimental Scientist). John Wallis 1616-1703. (Mathematician). William Petty 1623-87. (Economist, Scientist and Philosopher). Robert Boyle 1627-1691. (Natural Philosopher, Chemist, Physicist, Inventor). Christopher Wren 1632-1723. (Professor of Astronomy at Gresham College and Architect). Robert Moray 1608/9-1673. (Scientist and spy). John Wilkins 1614-1672. (Theologian later became Bishop of Chester).George Ent 1604-1689). (Physician friend and supporter of William Harvey). Christopher Merret 1614/15-1695. (Physician and writer on Natural Philosophy). William Neile 1637-1691. (Amateur scientist particularly interested in optics). Francis Glisson 1599?-1677. (Physician, Anatomist and Physiologist).
Experimental aspects explored and considered by the Invisible College included: Circulation of blood (note friendship between Harvey and Ent), valves in the veins, the Copernican hypothesis, nature of comets and stars, improvement of the telescopes, weighing air, falling objects under gravity, barometric measurement (Torricellian experiments).
The Invisible College is important in history as it was one of the first groups that realised the importance of science and scientific research and made a major contribution to the subsequent expansion of scientific experimentation in British science and the formation of scientific societies e.g., the Royal Society.
It would be a fascinating exercise to compare the Invisible College with the Lunar Society – two amazing groups particularly their differences.
Webster. C. ‘The origins of the Royal Society.’ History of Science. VI. 1967.
Kassell. L. ‘Invisible College.’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. OUP 2010.
Turner. D. M. ‘History of Science Teaching in England.’ Chapman and Hall. 1927.
Francis Bacon (1561-1626). Philosopher and Statesman.
Bacon stressed the importance of experiment in interpreting nature and the importance of possible evidence which might contradict any already existing thesis or view. He held that, to prepare the mind for the intuition of the true essence or nature of a thing, it has to be meticulously cleaned of all anticipations, prejudices, and idols. For the source of all error is the impurity of our own minds; Nature does not lie. His use of anticipation in his much of his writings can be equated to the concept of hypothesis.His method of scientific induction became very influential in future scientific research.
At this time of unprecedented change in the nature of the world of work and the transformations that are occurring in the profile of employment, guidance for people to decide on their education, training and employment is even more critical than ever. This is particularly important for technical and vocational subjects in order to help dispel some of the negative attitudes towards these important subjects and also improve their image in the eyes of people especially the young. Educational and training Institutions must develop comprehensive and effective guidance systems to open up access, increase and widen participation, improve retention and produce individuals who will match the employment needs of the country. People, whether preparing to enter employment or those already in work who may be considering a career change, require support to make the correct decisions and as a result be more effective employees. Unfortunately for too long guidance has been treated as a bolt-on and even optional but it must now be fully integrated into the mainstream curriculum offered by education and training providers. It must become central at entry, on-programme and exit stages of provision in schools, colleges and training providers. If resources permit providers should establish a central guidance unit or for small scale institutions guidance resources of the other agencies should be used.
Guidance and careers guidance is a complex process and both require a clear definition and must include these important elements and be:
· Impartial and student/client centred
· Unbiased and without pressure from employers and education and training providers
· Take full account of factors affecting and impacting on existing and future labour market information
· Equally accessible to all students and people in general seeking advice
· Promote equality of opportunity for all seeking advice and guidance
· Developed and delivered by skilled and experienced staff who follow an agreed code of practice.
A multitude of activities are involved in such guidance including:
Advising, Advocating, Assessing, Counselling, Enabling, Feeding back, Informing, Innovating/systems change, Managing, Networking and Teaching
The two lists above should provide the elements and characteristics to define the code of practice for guidance that institutions must produce. The guidance process must be integrated into the curriculum at all stages of education and training and effective and on-going cooperation must exist between the guidance and teaching staff.
Open, impartial and continuous guidance
Guidance must be operated on an honest brokership basis. It is essential that it is unbiased and objective, based on the real needs of the individual, not the institutions. These elements are becoming even more important as colleges, training providers and adult education/lifelong learning centres increase the numbers of mature students who will require guidance especially at the diagnostic/ entry stage. With the continuing problems of functional illiteracy and innumeracy in this country initial diagnostic techniques and the guidance process must be sympathetic and understanding of the needs of the learners. The education and training providers must establish an on-going guidance service throughout the learners’ programmes. Quite often learners realise that they are on the wrong course or begin to struggle with their studies and therefore require addition learning support and continuing guidance. This will require that the initial guidance is complemented by more specialised guidance provision either from the institution or from outside guidance agencies. Therefore it is essential that the institutional central guidance services, if they exist, establish an effective wide ranging network including subject teachers, employers and other guidance professionals. This model of complementarity will make certain that the learners continually receive objective guidance that will provide the necessary checks and balances in the system e.g. if the learner is struggling with their studies or is unhappy with the provision.
The need for open and unbiased guidance is a result of a number of complex and interrelated factors. These include: non-existent, ineffective or ill-informed guidance in schools, colleges, universities or other guidance services; parental pressure which is often determined by the false perception that ‘A’ levels and ‘GCSEs’ are superior to other technical and vocational qualifications; peer influences and sadly often ill-informed advice from teachers who have limited direct experience of working in industry, commerce or employment areas outside the rather narrow academic world. The added challenge for technical and many vocational subjects is the negative image that they possess as evidenced in the history of technical and commercial education and training.
Guidance is a profession and vocation in its own right and requires specialised training and the role of guidance staff is to complement teachers to provide a high quality holistic service to all learners. After all there is no point in increasing and widening participation if as a result of poor guidance retention rates decline and failure rates increase. Surveys over many years conducted across Europe have shown that up to 10% students feel they are on the wrong course. Unfortunately many students who feel they are on the wrong course often cannot transfer, either because of the lack of an appropriate alternative or the rigid time constraints of the course scheduling or even more worrying the pressure put on them by the teacher/lecturer. The need to maintain class viability often means that students are made to remain on the course with the resultant low retention rates or failure. In order to improve the participation in technical and vocational subject’s effective guidance, advice and information systems must be introduced across the education and training sectors as a matter of urgency. This will hopefully improve the overall image of these subjects and dispel many of the misconceptions of these strategically important subjects.
Part 2 will continue to raise issues associated with this important topic.
Part 2 continues to reinforce the importance of guidance in education and training especially during the current recession and for technical and vocational subjects. Some key factors that need to be considered when formulating a policy include the following:
As usual, resources whether human, physical and financial will play an important part in developing and implementing a more effective strategy. One of the key challenges is to realise value for money for the service and economy of scale. This is a fact that has to be addressed particularly during a period of financial austerity and massive cuts that education and training budgets are now experiencing. One critical issue that must be considered is the number and proportion of specialist and non-specialist guidance advisers involved both within education/training institutions and in other agencies. Professionally qualified specialist advisers will need to move between the various education and training centres to support the staff based within schools, colleges and training providers. Clearly team working and cross departmental cooperation will be even more essential for the operation of a successful and cost effective service in order to maximise the expertise. The reforms over the past few years have not been particularly successful e.g. Connections and the focusing on specific age groups and an urgent and major set of reform s are long overdue.
Labour Market Intelligence (LMI)
Critical to this is that there must be a comprehensive, up to date labour market intelligence system that identifies and informs education and training providers as accurately as possible the current and future needs of employers. (See other articles on this website). The issues associated with the supply and demand equation of appropriately skilled labour are both challenging and complex but must be managed in an economic, effective and efficient manner (the 3 E’s). The critical factor is how one achieves the balance of the supply and demand equation and any guidance system must be fully aware of the needs of the employers currently and in the future and crucially what the government’s employment intentions are. This is particularly important when inward investment developments are being explored by the government. Effective partnerships and ongoing communications are essential between the guidance service, the government and its relevant departments, employers and education and training providers. New employment opportunities and structures and industries/occupations are appearing rapidly and challenge traditional assumptions about career choices and ways of operating information, guidance and advice systems. The nature and patterns of work for individuals are changing rapidly and more so in the current volatile global financial climate. This will require well informed guidance professionals who are aware of these external transitions who can provide impartial information, advice and guidance. People are likely to have more jobs over a lifetime i.e. to have a portfolio work style and equally importantly people have to be more flexible and realistic in their career aspirations. Knowledge and skill bases are expanding and developing at an exponential rate and in some industries the knowledge half life is now six months. The future profile of employment will comprise the so-called knowledge economy and a mix of essential traditional industries and the challenge is to achieve a realistic balance between these two that reflects the needs and aspirations of the islands. This country must create an economy that requires a wide range of competences, skills and knowledge bases. The qualifications offered by education and training centres must match and provide these skills etc. Equally importantly the providers must prepare their learners to enter employment by offering impartial, relevant and up to date guidance, advice and information.
The Guidance Process and Lifelong Learning
Impartial and well informed guidance is essential as part 1 identified and the lack of information about education and training opportunities and not knowing what is available and what the benefits are must be addressed through universal access to impartial and comprehensive information, guidance, support and advice. Information about the potential education, training and employment opportunities is essential but even this may not be enough. People need to learn but sadly a number are reluctant to engage in learning. One solution is to stimulate demand for lifelong learning as well as reviewing and reforming the current ways of supply; focusing on the possible barriers to learning and remove these in order to motivate people to learn.
After all lifelong learning has to compete for people’s time and attention. The labour market tends to reward higher levels of knowledge and skills, so there is a personal financial incentive, as well as the reward of business performance and growth. The employment profile for the country is still changing and it is imperative that it achieves that difficult balance across and between a range of competences and skills that will be required in future employment. Education and training providers must offer programmes that prepare learners of all ages to enter these new and emerging occupational areas ensuring they are more fully informed of the nature of their chosen employment. The guidance process must also stress the importance of continuing professional development in order to create a culture of lifelong learning.
One other important factor in addition to the information, guidance and advice giving is that a number of people will require support with their literacy, computer and numeracy skills i.e. basic skills. Education and training providers will have such facilities that could be used by the wider community using a referral system from the guidance advisers. These days basic and employability skills coupled with specific specialised skills are becoming essential in preparing a well educated/trained workforce for the future.
If resources allow programmes of work experience/placement are invaluable enhancements in the curriculum for employment preparation particularly for post-16 students. This is particularly true whether or not the learners have focused or unfocused career intentions. Many people often have unrealistic attitudes towards particular occupations and a period of work experience/placement can help confirm or refute that intention.
One of the real challenges of developing a comprehensive guidance system is managing the heterogeneous populations requiring guidance whether young or adult and particularly those with specific/special needs.
In order to maintain high quality guidance systems which engenders confidence and respect among users regular monitoring and inspection regimes will need to be developed. In order to recognise the importance of guidance within education and training the staff involved will need to be supported by programmes of CPD and accepted as equals in what will become an even more important activity. The development of a guidance system is a very challenging task but an essential one if the economy of this country is to thrive and compete with other countries.
To develop and maintain a guidance process is both a very difficult and challenging task as it is different from formal teaching and learning* but if an effective, impartial, open and objective system is established it pays dividends for both the learner, the institution, employer and ultimately the country.
· See the elements in part 1 that differentiates and defines the guidance process from teaching formal subjects.
How effective are current labour market research methods in identifying skills gaps and shortages? And how good are the statistical models used to illustrate the shape and nature of employment profiles in the future?
Above are two key questions particularly in the current recession that need to be addressed as a matter of urgency. Providers of education and training are looking to improve their prediction and monitoring techniques. Labour Market Intelligence (LMI) is the foundation upon which much of their planning and subsequent provision is based. What programmes should be developed and offered in the future and how best can the supply and demand equation be balanced more effectively? LMI also has a significant influence on government policy and expenditure on critical areas of education and training.
The problem is that globalisation – including the free flow of labour inside an enlarged European Union – brings about massive transformations and unforeseen consequences. Here are just a few of the more obvious transformations in the global economy and labour force:
· Demographic asymmetry – an aging workforce and lower birth rates in many industrialised developed nations compared with the developing nations that have higher birth rates and proportionally younger workforce.
· Changing work profiles – multiple careers throughout people’s working lives coupled with different modes of working, e.g. part-time and home based.
· Increased world–wide mobility of the work force.
· Accelerating scientific and technological discovery and innovation.
· Resourcing–the impact of changing cycles of outsourcing, as companies pursue cheaper or more efficient labour markets.
· Changes in company structures – resulting from mergers and acquisitions and leading to more complex human resource legislation and regulation.
· Increasing influence of multinational corporations and enterprises.
Inevitably the global labour market is becoming ever more volatile as well. In such a complex environment, more effective statistical techniques and modelling methods are urgently required. New measurement instruments and data bases are needed, which can more effectively identify, match and articulate with the emergent global trading and economic landscape. More relevant information, focussed more sharply on cross-occupational sectors in order to illuminate and inform business and political policy making and this in turn informs educational and training providers.
Problems caused by the current state of market research include the following elements:
· Inadequate knowledge of what competences, skills and knowledge will be required in the future.
· Inability to monitor and identify the knowledge half-life of key disciplines, especially those where the pace of innovation is especially rapid e.g. ICT.
· A resultant mismatch between the products of education and training and the needs of the employers.
· A growing inability to achieve a balance in the supply and demand equation.
Some statisticians argue that current approaches to labour market data and the subsequent analysis represents a classic case of measurement without knowledge. Paolo Garonna, a former Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Europe, observed: “measurement gaps and the lack of quality data are the main obstacles to shedding light on the crucial set of relationships between the acquisition and accumulation of knowledge and labour market performance.” It is an intriguing paradox that we have more data from a wider range of disparate and disconnected sources than ever before – but this does not necessarily provide more reliable, valid and meaningful information. More accurate and accessible statistics and information are necessary to provide useful labour market intelligence within the global context.
Recent surveys and reports highlighting current and future skills gaps and shortages in the country still seem to be using the more traditional statistical techniques. Bearing in mind the less than impressive results from work-force planning in the past e.g. numbers of teachers, doctors, plumbers etc, does this not suggest that – in the UK at least – we currently lack the tools to predict future labour market needs? And how will this affect the ability of our education and training system to rise to the challenges and match the needs of employers and produce a workforce that will compete more successfully in the global economy.
A final point and a wider set of questions
What does growth mean for a particular country? What is the relationship/balance between domestic needs and export/international trade? Is chasing growth one of the sources of our current worldwide woes? What implications do these and other questions have for LMI?
Maybe another article?
Should scientists and technologists become more involved in policy making and/or as socio-political influencers and if so what are the resultant responsibilities of educational providers, whether in schools, colleges or universities?
The role and the influence of scientists and technologists in formulating national policy has never been more important. The scientific and technological dimensions are but two of a number of wider ranges of complex and interacting dimensions associated with the financial/political/social domain. With the increasing concerns about the long-term consequences of scientific and technological developments on the global environment and people’s lives in general, there is a need to achieve an effective balance between science/technology policy and the wider domains.
Increasingly the concept of a nation state is declining as a focus of power, being largely usurped by the growth and influence of multinational companies and corporations and the resultant global economies. There is a breakdown in the traditional paradigms for the way government and societies operate and function. This is, in part, a product of increasing disenchantment with party political representation and the resultant emergence of the power of factional interest groups and single-issue pressure groups, together with market, competition and profit values which downgrade public ownership and responsibility. These undoubtedly question traditionally understood forms of democracy and other political philosophies.
Science and technology already dominate what people take for granted in their lives and it is important that scientists and technologists recognise and accept more fully their responsibilities for these realities both as policy makers/influencers and as citizens. Scientific and technological influences will in future, have even greater prominence in daily life and in the products and services which will be in demand worldwide.
Science education, in terms of its process and content, must be reviewed and planned, so that people are better prepared for involvement in a science and technology-based workforce, or for a more informed understanding about their applications in society. A more scientifically and technologically literate society and workforce must be central in lifelong learning and a learning society.
There is a common perception that science and technology is damaging to the environment and the people’s way of life. This can create a negative and hostile view of science which manifests itself, at worst, in indifference and passivity towards the subject, or a view that it is elitist and closed. Among the sceptics are many who are interested in environmental issues but distrust the physical sciences, which they perceive to have damaged the environment and lowered the quality of life.
Products and services which people take for granted are increasingly based on science and technology, but paradoxically people do not wish to see or understand the production processes that are associated with these, often viewing them as damaging to the environment. The growth in the various lobbyists and factional groups is a symptom of how many people feel about science and technology. Some recent examples highlighted these issues, namely, the BP oil leak and deep sea drilling for oil, the reliability of data about global warming, the further development of growing GM foods, the dangers of microwave radiation from mobile phones and masts and the possible use of nano-technologies and three dimensional printing etc.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of these issues, one is still left with an overwhelming sense of confusion and uncertainty about the impact of these scientific and technological developments. People must surely be able to analyse and balance all the apparently contradictory information and evidence in order to form a view about the relative merits of such developments. Education and training must play a vital role in informing judgements.
The exploitation of radiation in its medical and military uses is a classic example of the closed and mysterious activities of science and technology. The extent of the misuse of radiation, especially in the development of nuclear weapons, is only just emerging. Notwithstanding the inevitable political and nationalistic imperatives of the times, the distortion of the uses of science and technology makes scientists the architects of mass destruction in society’s view.
Even with the development of radiation diagnostic techniques in medicine, particularly with x-rays, there is now evidence of early ignorance of its dangers, both by scientists and operators. In order not to repeat these mistakes, and to help dispel the negative perception of science, scientific and technolological issues must be more openly discussed and be central to educational content and process, both at the compulsory and post-compulsory stages.
The current concerns associated with, say, global warming, and pollution, peaceful use of nuclear energy, genetic engineering, mobile phone technologies and nano-technologies, require acceptable solutions, whether based on scientific, moral, economic or political grounds. This will only be possible with a more scientifically and technologically literate society, with more open debate between the scientists, decision makers and members of society in general. The Nobel Prize to Professor Rotblat highlights the need for interest groups, which work over many years involving a number of informed and influential social and physical scientists.
Lifelong learning and training, including continuing science education, must become consonant with technological, economic, political and societal change and, it could be argued, should even move in advance of public understanding of all these and other elements of change.
In the past, the passivity of science has largely developed a reactive stance by people. If, in the future, people wish to influence the consequences of science and technology, whether known or yet to be demonstrated, there needs to be a culture of pro-activity. The growth of well informed factional interest and ‘single issue’ groups, with the resultant enhanced enablement of the individual, could help develop this pro-activity. There are some real dangers with such developments and there needs to be a sensible balance between the long-term benefits to society and the views of the factional groups. The lobbyists will raise important and legitimate concerns about scientific and technological developments. However, they actually could impede important, strategic and beneficial advances. A more informed populace, which is more self critical about consumer needs, could bring about more effective and acceptable changes associated with the consultation and planning phases.
Practicing scientists/technologists must be key players in policy formulation, as science contributes to many elements of current and future policy. Science sees itself as being objective and deterministic. It should and can moderate policy. The right questions need to be raised. The key is how they should be framed within the wider social/political/financial domains. Should scientists and technologists be ‘on top’ or ‘on tap’ andhow should this be managed within the strategic partnership that will finally articulate and form the policy?
There is a major challenge ahead for teachers and institutions to find ways to produce a more scientifically and technological literate society, which can be more aware of the possible consequences of scientific and technologic advances and developments. Equally important is preparation of front-line scientists/technologists to network among and beyond themselves. They need become more ‘aware’ of the possible consequences of their discoveries and their resultant productions and help society to understand the implications clearly. In addition they must be good communicators and manage public relations to a high order.
The crude oppositional approach to debates over vocational education and training and academic education has been a long and largely unproductive one in the UK. Many reports and government publications over the decades have advocated the recognition of the equal value of vocational education and training both within the Further and Higher Education sectors. Successive governments have talked about bringing a greater occupational focus into degree programmes but with little lasting effect.
Periodically during their terms of office successive governments appear to rediscover the importance of vocational education particularly at the higher education level and then attempt to create a number of initiatives to raise the profile of this critically important matter within the education and training landscape. The introduction of foundation degrees, graduate apprenticeships, half baked attempts to emphasise the importance of work based learning, the introduction of the so-called employability agenda and personal and social skills into degree programmes have been a few recent examples. Personal and social skills have been long been advocated by employers.
One effective approach to improving the awareness of the work place has been the placement of students into employment during their degree programmes and a number of models have been tried including sandwich courses (thin and thick) and work shadowing. Sadly sandwich programmes have declined significantly since the 1960s. These programmes provided students with real work placements of varying durations. In addition some universities and employers have developed internships but again these, particularly in the current recession, have been curtailed but with an increased tendency for the employers to require payment from the students for the opportunity. Programmes of work experience/placement add value to a student’s education and better prepare them for work. Research has shown that students who have been on such programmes gain higher classifications in their degrees, obtain employment more quickly than those students who do not undertake work experience. However too often students want to complete their degrees as quickly as possible because of the current student loan regime and the majority of universities have been reluctant to operate the work placement programmes because of added cost and administration burdens. The former polytechnics are often the exception and compared with the older universities have continued the programmes, many working with the CGLI Senior Awards that recognise the work placement. Overall the HE sector does not fully recognise the need or value in vocationalising degree programmes.
A Bit of History
It might be of value to refresh our memories with a little history of higher education vocational awards (for more detail see the history of technical education on this website). Ever since the Great Exhibition (1851) and the Paris Exhibition (1867) it became clear that Britain was losing its supremacy in manufacturing and began its long period of relative decline in regard to international competitiveness and productivity with other countries. Innumerable Royal Commissions and other reports stressed and highlighted the urgent need to improve education and training at all levels of the educational system particularly of technical and vocational programmes at the higher levels. A number of changes to the HE system have been attempted over the past few decades in order to respond to the increasing challenges from international competitors. For example in 1956 a number of institutions were designated or created to become technological and vocational in character within the HE sector. Colleges of Advanced Technology (CATs) were established focusing on higher levels of work and awarded Diplomas in Technology. Following the Robbins Report these ten institutions were designated university status and allowed to award degrees. In 1967 Anthony Crossland, in one of two seminal speeches, criticised universities for what he described as their lack of response to society’s needs and indicating that greater responsiveness would only come from institutions which were ‘under more direct social control’. Thus Polytechnics were created and were seen by central government as being different from universities in terms of the type of degrees awarded, the balance between teaching and research, as well as the comprehensive nature of the student population. Polytechnics were eventually became universities in 1991/2 a move criticised by a number of commentators.
At the time of their inception many of these institutions developed innovative vocational degree programmes with strong and effective links with employers. Often they included provision of sandwich placements with employers. These programmes were seen as offering realistic experiences in the workplace and were greatly valued by both students and employers. Sadly, following the decline of large parts of the manufacturing base of the UK, particularly with large employers, sandwich programmes decreased. In addition problems with student, institutional and employer finances contributed to this decline. The introduction of student loans accelerated the decline and the current proposed changes in university student funding will further exacerbate the demise of work experience programmes. A few HE institutions maintained their offer of vocationally focused programmes with work placement (mainly the former Polytechnics) but overall academic drift continued – a disease that has blighted the education system in England for centuries – reflecting the fundamental and historical hostility to the more vocationally and technically focused subjects, (with certain exceptions like accountancy, law and medicine which often carry the title vocational). In addition students often encouraged by parents opt for the more supposedly academic subjects that are perceived as offering greater security and better paid salaries. Also the funding methodologies have encouraged universities to offer provision that is popular and as a result to reduce low recruiting programmes in such subjects as engineering, construction/built environment , manufacturing and the physical sciences. This reflected a similar trend in Further Education Colleges where the funding regimes created the ‘dash for cash’ or ‘bums on seats’ approach and brought about the downsizing, closure or merging of key technical and vocational departments and faculties in colleges and universities. This brief and partial history highlights that the debate is still alive with little evidence of a long-term solution. The government response to the current recession is to propose massive cuts proposed in colleges (25%) and radical changes to student funding in HE with fees to increase possibly two or three fold. This will further decimate the technical and vocational provision just at the time the UK has to fundamentally rethink its future industrial and commercial place in the global economy and when these must surely be the subjects that could allow a successful reconfiguration. Employers still argue strongly that the majority of their graduate recruits lack experience and qualifications, which ‘gel’ with their requirements and that the recruits are not work ready. Employers have long expressed concerns about the quality of the graduates and are frustrated with university products. Many state that the universities are out of touch with the needs of business and operate in isolation from the world of work. Too often graduates have little or no understanding of the business and commercial worlds. The widely held view of employers is that there is a real gap/disconnect between the academic and business worlds – each seems to operate in separate boxes – they see the universities’ view as academic needs first followed by business needs. Many cite international practices e.g. China, Germany and US where the universities work very much more closely and effectively with employers. Employers also feel that academic staff are often not up to date with current technical and business practices and techniques. Employers quite rightly want to recruit ‘work ready’ graduates who possess real experience and understand more fully the needs of the workplace. The wider employability skills like better communication skills, dependability, integrity, Importance of working to deadlines, problem solving, reliability and team working/collaboration skills are often cited. Increasingly employers place a premium on such skills. Employers want to see business knowledge and enterprise skills. The real danger at present in the UK with the recession and the government’s austerity measures is that more poor-quality and low- skills jobs will increase and that the hoped for renaissance will not happen. Instead a weak, impoverished economy will emerge.
Perceived Primary Purpose
Universities counter these criticisms by arguing that it is not their primary purpose to prepare their students for job specific roles. Recent statements from senior university people in the media representing the Russell League/Group of universities restated this somewhat precious viewpoint, which surely harped back to the elitist and ivory tower model of Victorian higher education system. So the impression is that the traditional suspicions between education and business still persist and each continues to be wary of the other. One interesting consequence from employers to this problem is the development of in-company schemes to train recent recruits and the development of corporate universities. Also many large companies are returning to recruiting school/college students and providing either day release or in-house programmes i.e. growing their own talent where the employees learn on job the necessary skills, knowledge, understanding and competences for that particular job or professional role. Obviously it remains to be seen if the reformed apprenticeship programmes will improve the flow of properly skilled people into business and strengthen the education/training and employer links. Internships also offer some hope but recently companies have been requiring students to pay for their placement which makes this a somewhat exclusive option i.e. it allows entry to only students who have the money to pay. Also it must be noted that this development is occurring predominantly with financial services and industries.
Recent developments with Foundation Degrees and Graduate Apprenticeships promised much but still have not reached a critical mass in key subjects to have any real impact. In fact Graduate Apprentices were launched with great gusto but petered out as quickly. Foundation Degrees were a result of Tony Blair’s misplaced and misguided statement about increasing university education to 50% by 2010 which has misfired with the recent recession. Seventy graduates now chase every job vacancy and equally sadly often involving graduates with degrees in subjects not in demand or in over supplied subjects. The supply-demand equation is very unbalanced at this critical time of recession. Foundation Degrees have also undermined Higher National Certificates and Diplomas which have long been greatly valued by many employers (another example of academic drift is to attach degree to the title and think it is more important!). These forerunner awards were very much vocationally focused.
Opportunities for Work Placements
The more traditional honours degrees must surely incorporate enhanced guidance, feedback and reflection elements and high-level employability key skills into the programmes. In spite of the current recession there must be a dramatic extension in programmes of work experience, job shadowing, internships etc. Companies particularly the small and medium sized must receive some form of support and encouragement say via tax incentives to take students on such programmes.
In order to move the debate forward and to make the HE curriculum more vocationally relevant and work related the following points could be considered:
· Consolidate and build upon the undoubted benefits and value of work experience; provision needs to expand in order to achieve a critical mass and so have a greater impact
· HE institutions to develop and refine methods of recording students’ work experiences via reflective/critical diaries, portfolios, records of achievement and transcripts
· Encourage and truly value the contributions made by employers and not treat their involvement as tokenistic and cosmetic
· Develop stronger and more effective partnerships with other institutions e.g., colleges and training providers and employers
· Introduce employability skills into all degree programmes
· HE Institutions to make closer links with strategic economic planners in the process of introducing or improving curricula and programmes.
Based on an article first published in ‘t’ magazine in January 2004.
It’s all been said before, but here is my version. A number of my statements will be massively generalised but they are made to trigger further debate and discussion.
Numerous reports over many decades have focused on the ineffective state of education and training and our track-record in this area compared with our competitors. The majority of these reports focused on particular sectors of education and training e.g. secondary, further and higher education. Very few, as the main history of technical education showed, embraced the whole of the education and training spectrum. It is important on the grounds of continuity and progression that all stages are considered as part of a continuum. Too often a particular priority is given to one stage of education without careful thought of its consequences on the other stages. Lifelong learning in order to be successful must provide continuity and ease of progression for all people at whatever stage they are. Very often some of the excellent findings and recommendation of these reports were seldom recognised or implemented and the reports gathered dust on the shelves.
What this country has consistently failed to achieve since the Great Exhibition (1851) is to produce a range of suitably qualified people in sufficient numbers to work in teams with the productive and original thinking individuals and researchers. The roots of the problem may be cultural. The culture, in England particularly, is a basic hostility to science and technology and we imagine that success in life as measured by employment in other professions such as financial services, law and medicine. With respect to the people in these professions they do not actually contribute much to the manufacturing base of this country. Wealth generated by such can never fully compensate for a strong and efficient manufacturing base. Just look at the current problems caused by the recession and the highly questionable practices operated by the financial services particularly in the US and UK. (The financial services could be perceived as witchcraft and financial terrorism conducted in pin stripes!) To add insult to injury it is just these services that make money during recessions and depressions. Armies of accountants, auditors, consultants and lawyers make substantial profits from companies going into liquidation as the manufacturing base of this country further crumbles.
The educational system also contributes to this barren perception of science and technology. The system seems to equate quality with rarity and, as has been said before, the educational system is a catalogue of acculative failure. Any educational and training system must surely equate quality with fitness of purpose for all. Most people, given the right set of opportunities, can benefit from programmes of education and training at all stages of their life and then can play a more meaningful part in society and employment.
The ever- accelerating knowledge and skill base currently makes the situation even worse. It is now reckoned that the knowledge half life of an electrical engineer is less than four years and in some areas of IT less than six months. This means that there is a desperate need for lifelong learning and continuous professional development (CPD) for people in work. Successive governments have set targets for education and training attainment but enviably these have failed to be realised.
The country must break with the low- skill equilibrium and adopt once for all a high-skill, high-quality philosophy in the workplace. The current recession coupled with the severe austerity regimes being introduced by the consolation government in the UK will, I fear, perpetuate the low- skill and low-quality economy and employment profile.
In order to break away from its woefully inadequate track record, Britain needs to invest in people, both in the initial stage of education and training, but equally important, make a growing commitment to retraining, updating and up skilling already in work. People are the most valuable resource and it is important that a long-term view is taken of education and training, supporting people to cope with the information technology revolutions that are occurring. As has been said ‘it is not the robots which are the wonderful achievement, but the new and wide-ranging competence of our employees.’ Although many companies in the UK are striving to compete in the global economy the continuing skills gaps and shortages make it difficult for them to match the levels of productivity and work based qualifications of our main competitors. This fact is created by the inadequate state of technical education and training at all levels.
Engineering and Manufacturing
I would like now to focus on engineering and manufacturing, although many of the arguments bear similarities with other key subject areas e.g. the physical sciences and mathematics. Because this country still operates a largely elitist education system, much of the attention is still given to the production of graduates and those people who wish to progress on to chartered engineer status. What we have neglected is the training of technicians, operatives and craftspeople to support engineers, scientists and designers. This deficiency has been around since the Great Exhibition. For every researcher there needs to be four/five support staff, highly qualified and motivated. The area of technician and craft educational training has been woefully inadequate. Again, this might be associated with some cultural factor, that people often see these occupations/jobs as second rate.
Colleges, as the history of technical education shows, play a major role in improving the stock and flow of suitably qualified technicians and craft people. They have never been given adequate resources to achieve the required results within an operational framework based on a long-term strategy. Successive recessions have witnessed dramatic cut-backs in training. The same thing is happening in the current recession where college’s budgets are being cut up to 25%. This is opposite to what happens in many other countries where they increase investment in training/retraining. This country never seems to learn from the lessons of history. If we come out of the current recession we will still be confronted with massive skills gaps and shortages in key areas. The 1980s witnessed a massive decline in traditional manufacturing industries, and it must be said that there were examples of low productivity, over-staffing and under investment in equipment, infrastructure, capital and modern management techniques. This destruction has now reached the critical threshold that we now manufacture very little and have outsourced many of our remaining industries abroad. The country needs an efficient and viable manufacturing base in order to promote wealth. Increased global competition makes it even more essential. The prevailing view in the current recession is that the economy can be rebalanced by moving ex-public service employees and what remains of the traditional manufacturing industries into new technologies and high value occupations sadly this will not happen without major investments in retraining and up skilling. We must be able to produce products and services that the rest of the world wants to purchase. There needs to be a sensible balance between the manufacturing and service based industries and they must complement each other. The two go together and one cannot have an undue emphasis over the other – at present Britain has got the balance wrong! If we are to develop a regenerated and rebalanced manufacturing base we need to address some very fundamental issues associated with education and training.
When looks at the way companies are evolving internationally, many are down-sizing and becoming flatter and developing total quality management systems around small teams of highly qualified people. Each person within the team has a particular role and sense of the others knowledge and skill. The analogy is often used of ‘the surgeon team’ a small group of highly qualified people who can design products and services and solve problems. In addition a high level of automation must critically match the skills of the team members. There should no longer be issues of demarcation and over-staffing. There is a synergy between team members and also the teams that constitute the organisation. This culture could overcome the ongoing difficulty of attracting women into certain occupations, particularly engineering, as women are proven team workers.
The Engineering Team
This brings me to the concept of the engineering teams, to date; most emphasis has been placed on the graduate and chartered engineer. The engineering team comprises multi-skilled craftspeople, technicians, incorporated engineers and chartered engineers. In order to maximise the effectiveness and efficiency of the team, the education and training of all the members is important. Colleges must continue to develop innovative partnerships with employers and maximise wherever possible work based training through work experience, work placements etc. Colleges must also continue to establish new delivery and study methods that are more acceptable, both in terms of convenience and cost effectiveness to both parties. Apprenticeships must be further extended and their quality improved. In order to produce a more versatile engineer the E model of education and training should be adopted. The E model represents an ongoing and sensible mix of breath, balance and depth (specialisation) in the curriculum experience as opposed to the existing T model with too much early depth (specialisation). Students need to appreciate and experience first-hand the realities of engineering and manufacturing right from the beginning of their studies. This clearly requires stronger ongoing links between college study and the workplace – this reinforces the need and importance for work placement/shadowing/experience and the more formal apprenticeship programmes which are mainly work based. Opportunities for progression of the members of the engineering team must also be facilitated by the curriculum frameworks. The current qualifications framework still presents barriers to progression. The various qualifications, in spite of successive reforms, still cause difficulties for smooth progression. Greater recognition of team members experience and particular skills needs to be given by way of more enlightened use of assessment of prior achievement and learning, professional dairies and portfolios. People with CGLI qualifications still find it difficult to progress easily onto engineering technician, incorporate engineer or chartered engineering status. Similar difficulties still exist for other members wishing to progress to the next stage. The current education and training reforms will hopefully begin to resolve these long standing problems with progression and transfer. When one looks at the current qualifications and possible career routes for engineers it is reminiscent of the vessels on a gnat’s leg. It looks complex and confusing and in many cases does not offer smooth progression. One of the problems causing this confusion is still the multitude of professional bodies that represent engineering and manufacturing and the various members of the team. These bodies still seem to desire to maintain a great degree of autonomy and as a result are very protective of their territorial domains. As the world of work moves to multi-skilling and cross-skilling, it is surely important that a number of these associations and professional bodies merge and create a more unified structure to represent and support engineering and manufacturing. These professional have a long and creditable history (see biographies and pen portraits) but the time is right to reform and rationalise in order to improve the image of the disciplines. In order to create the engineering team all the interested parties must work together to eliminate unnecessary barriers that will establish an educational and training system that recognises the value of each team member and promotes a positive image of engineering and manufacturing. Once a highly qualified and motivated culture is created perhaps the country can re-establish and rebalance its economy. The country has relied on financial services, real estate and property and a disproportionately sized public services for too long and that imbalance has now to be addressed and resolved.
A different and somewhat divergent take on college management?
One of the more acceptable and helpful tenets of effective and good management and leadership is that managers should adopt a reflective and more critical stance. Continuous, systematic and careful reviews of the processes and outcomes of the business are, indeed, an invaluable and essential aid to the effective manager and leader.
Technical colleges as all educational and training institutions have much to reflect in the current climate of budget cuts and unprecedented austerity and hastily introduced government reforms to the curriculum, institutional governance and inspection regimes. The parenthesis model of management has never been more valid. The model challenges the whole of the existing thinking on organisational theory. It identifies a new type of person, namely the parenthetical person, one who reflects and reacts to the new societal circumstances facing the world. Simple definitions of inputs and outputs, as currently defined, are naive and simplistic. A Chinese proverb brilliantly reflects the need to be flexible, responsive and pragmatic namely: ‘cross rivers touch stones.’
The approach states forcefully that it is not enough merely to manage an organisation but it is necessary to attempt to manage the whole environment in which the college exists. It is essential that all managers and leaders perceive the broader societal implications of their managerial and leadership functions. Colleges are currently exposed to a very volatile environment. The education and training landscape in which they operate comprises a series of fragmented elements including funding agencies, many of which introduce policies and strategies that are contradictory and paradoxical. These impact on the institutions and require totally new forms of management and leadership skills. The continued development of market-force philosophies makes it difficult to seek sanctuary in the past. Even the awarding bodies are now operating and defining education and training in terms of hard headed businesses. As a result it often strikes me as being a classical example of Darwinism.
Historical practices and sign posts are often of little help. This is in itself is no bad thing. Many practices in education and training are still plagued by atavism so one must be prepared to accept change, development and improvement as inevitable. One, however must ask whether all changes are necessarily good for the educational/training service and are some of the changes precipitated by questionable external imperatives just bring change for changes sake e.g. examples of political short termism or political dogma?
So, during a period of reflection I explored the possible links between Darwin’s theory and current education management. Evolution theory is about progression and the imperative of the survival of the fittest and strongest. This looks a promising connection, especially in the current (free?) market forces where competition and (quasi) institutional autonomy is encouraged. Recruit more students with fewer resources, which clearly means ‘do more for less’ threaten some strategically important provision in such areas as construction, engineering and the physical sciences. Sadly these subjects along with others like mathematics and statistics continue to struggle to recruit sufficient students. One just has to read comments from employers about the lack of sufficient and properly qualified graduates in these subjects and other vocational areas of study. The often simplistic accountancy driven methodologies make it increasingly difficult for managers to protect high-cost, low recruiting programmes of studies. The funding regimes that are introduced quite rightly require gains in efficiency and effectiveness and the elimination of anarchic practices, but the regimes are not able to fully recognise certain vulnerable areas of study i.e. they lack sensitivity. It would therefore seem that we do manage a Darwinian scene and that managers must make every effort to protect threatened strategic programmes.
Just as Darwinism is about progression and advancement, in the natural world, education must be about constant improvement of the service offered to all its students whether in employment, entering employment or as citizens in general. Provision must be of the highest quality as possible and match the future requirements of life and work. The early theories/hypotheses of evolution were about long-term change and improvement: this was called ‘phylogenic gradualism’. Species coped successfully or otherwise with a whole range of external forces and adapted to these influences. It was usually about long-term developments, progression, survival and ultimately improvement.
In the light of more recent observations, data and field research a refined hypothesis has been postulated, namely ‘punctuated equilibrium.’ Distinct and discernible changes are observed, often over short time scales.
So which of these hypotheses is more valid in the current climate? Changes come thick and fast and often precipitate rapid and unforeseen mutations/consequences, so it would seem that punctuated equilibrium – or should that be ‘rapid punctuated equilibrium’? is more appropriate to the world of education and training. Where the analogy with Darwinism breaks down, or weakens, is that much of the current change in education/training is regressive, not progressive. Mass scale introduction of accountability structures and bureaucracy, much of which seeks information to a ridiculous and questionable degree of resolution diverts the colleges from their true business, namely improving access and participation of students, increasing the effectiveness of learning and teaching and increasing achievement levels. This diversion seriously affects the quality of service as the learner-staff have to respond to innumerable requests for information and become more involved in administrative tasks. Also the obsession with testing and increasingly heavily prescribed syllabuses further constraint teachers and learners even more. Leagues tables and questionable targets abound linked with obsessive and intrusive inspection and assessment regimes. Perhaps a modified version of rapid punctuated equilibrium indicating regression is a stronger case to consider?
Different sponsors/organisations require different forms of information at different times, although in many cases they are asking for the same measures. No apparent coherent or long –term strategic planning process exists between these sponsors/organisations, especially in the area of education and training. To extend the Darwinian hypothesis perhaps one could identify these sponsors/organisations as forms of predators-maybe-but that is worth a longer and separate period of reflection.
So there are a number of parallels, some strong, some weak, between education and Darwinism. The external environment can be both supportive and hostile and managers and leaders must deal with a multitude of external influences operating on short-term political agendas and policies, often in contradictory fashions.
Policy, planning and strategy determined by humans are too often driven by a range of many interconnected values e.g. political and ideological which are placed on human worth. The parenthetical manager and leader, referred to earlier, will also assert some values for the organisation and the external environment which means that the manager and leader must be aware of these values and as a result cope more effectively with change-or should it be rapid punctuated equilibrium?
Bush. T. ‘Theories of Educational Management.’ Paul Chapman. 1988.
Bush. T. (ed). ‘Managing Education Theory and Practice.’ Open University. 1989.
First published in ‘t’ magazine.