Gateway Qualifications was delighted to be able to support the AoC Annual Conference as sponsor of the Leadership strand. Here, we reflect on just a few of the things we learnt at the conference.

The risk and reward of digital

The benefits and risks of online technology as AoC Chief Executive David Hughes reflected as he welcomed delegates after technology problems forced a delay to the start of the online conference. Benefits and challenges with which we are all now so familiar and continue to grapple.

The importance of digital skills in the current situation, and for the recovery to come, cannot be overstated and whilst not a key focus of the conference was certainly a significant undertone in many of the sessions.

New City College Principal, Gerry McDonald reflected on the stark divide between the digital haves and have nots whilst introducing a session on the importance of implementing the new Essential Digital Skills Qualifications (EDSQs) strategically across the whole college group.

The college group worked closely with Gateway Qualifications in the development of the new legal entitlement qualifications and was the first college in the country to successfully take learners through the qualifications. It was encouraging to hear the stories of some of those learners, and what gaining EDSQs is now enabling them to do, such as being ready to re-enter employment after a Covid-enforced redundancy or being able to connect with friends and family during the ongoing lockdowns.

Find out more about Essential Digital Skills Qualifications

Celebrating Success in Challenging Times

Once again the AoC Beacon Awards provided a reminder of the fantastic work being done by colleges, and the positive impact that work has on individuals and the wider communities that colleges serve.

Introducing the announcement of the winners, AoC Chief Executive, David Hughes said:

“The awards showcase exactly why colleges are so important to every community and why people value them. They recognise the very best collaboration, support and education and training that is delivered by expert teaching staff.”

Congratulations to all the winning colleges:

  • Abingdon & Witney College
  • Bridgend College
  • Bridgwater & Taunton College
  • DN Colleges Group
  • East Durham College
  • Strode College
  • TEC Partnership
  • West Suffolk College
  • Weston College

Read more about the finalists and winners on the Beacon Awards website

AEB Devolution needs flexibility from AOs

The devolution of the Adult Education Budget in regions of England has seen emerging flexibility in approaches to funding policy and curriculum design.  It was good to hear about a case study in the devolved Liverpool City Region where Merseyside Colleges collaborated with the Combined Authority to develop new programmes that met the needs of learners and employers in key growth sectors.

It was, however, disappointing to hear that the colleges couldn’t find a regulated qualification that was capable of meeting their needs. And this poses a challenge to Awarding Organisations to ensure that we are ready and able to support the needs of employers, providers and learners as Combined Authorities make more of the flexibility devolution provides them.

At Gateway Qualifications, our curriculum is designed to be flexible and can be adapted to meet local needs. Our qualifications, units and your own courses can be mixed and matched into one programme, with the majority of regulated qualifications and units already eligible for funding.

Last summer, we launched our SkillUP back to work courses, which build on just this approach, allowing providers to select off-the-shelf programmes to meet the most common needs, or to create their own programmes to meet the more specific needs of particular employers or local requirements.

Find out more about creating flexible programmes with SkillUP

White Paper Welcomed

It was pleasing to hear that the Skills white paper was welcomed by the audience, although it was noted that funding would need to be forthcoming to support the FE sector in delivering on the strategy, particularly in respect of funding key elements such as building employer partnerships.

Community Collaboration

Another key message coming through was about localism and community, recognising the need for working in collaboration across the eco-system. The eco-system would include not just colleges collaborating with each other, but would include employers, Chambers of Commerce, Local Enterprise Partnerships and as an awarding organisation, Gateway Qualifications would argue should include working with the awarding sector in these collaborations.

By this means the awarding sector will develop products that would be directly influenced and shaped by employers, meeting local skills needs, and which can be delivered in the colleges and other providers which are part of these collaborations.  And we would add, with the learners’ futures as the driving force of these collaborations.

Student Digital Champions

Morley College gave a very interesting session on how they use technology to support their ESOL learning. The key issue that was raised with ESOL learners is that ESOL tutors tend to be reluctant to use technology due to the pressure of supporting large groups of students with a wide range of devices and ultimately address issues around digital exclusion. One tutor noted that at times it could take her 2.5 hours to get all of her ESOL class just connected to the college Wi-fi.

To rectify this issue but to still ensure technology is being used to support ESOL learning, the college has chosen to give some learners the roles of Student Digital Champions (SDC’s). This is a role for those ESOL learners that are more advanced on digital technology to help support their peers with their technology needs. Not only has this taken pressure of the tutors, but it also helps provide additional peer mentoring skills within the Student Digital Champions (SDC’s) themselves. Although students do spontaneously support each other and their tutors, development of a more structured model for SDCs has been identified as a priority for the college.

A ladder needs its lower rungs

There is no doubt we all welcome the new Adult Level 3 opportunity for people to access education. However, those of us who work in the sector know that a challenge for this to succeed will be the recruitment of learners to Level 3.

Simply put – by only putting the funding at this level, we are disadvantaging the already disadvantaged. For some, getting to Level 3 can be a very long, hard road, and for those coming from social economically deprived areas, that journey is much longer with many more barriers.

Therefore, echoing the comments of the Vice Principal of Wigan & Leigh College – Level 2 and below should also be seen as vital, as it is so important that we create a culture of learning and an environment where everyone realises that to climb a ladder all the rungs must be in place and secure.