Stop being ‘misty-eyed’ about the past, FE told

ruth silver fetl colleges

The FE sector must look to the future instead of looking back “misty-eyed” at the past, according to the president of the Further Education Trust for Leadership.

Writing in the thinktank’s first publication, FETL president Dame Ruth Silver says there has never been a “golden age of further education”, and making direct comparisons with the past is “questionable”.

“The sector is imperfect, variable in both quality and mission, and it has never remained the same for long,” she writes. “It’s the very nature of further education to change and to continuously redefine and rethink itself.”

Dame Ruth, who was principal of Lewisham College for 17 years, says the sector should be “loyal to the future” by constantly moving forward to new agendas and contexts.

Although she believes is it important to understand and learn from the past, Dame Ruth continues: “There is little point in looking back simply to admire, misty-eyed, what went before.

“There are, I suspect, two kinds of folk around us: those who long for the past and those who desire a future. We, at FETL, are firmly of the latter camp.”

FETL is an independent charity set up last year to strengthen leadership within the FE sector.

Its remit is to carry on the work of the scrapped Learning and Skills Improvement Service, using £5.5 million of the service’s leftover budget.

Its first publication, Remembered Thinking: on further education and leading, features excerpts from works by QC and Labour peer Helena Kennedy, former education secretary David Blunkett, Conservative minister John Hayes and Liberal Democrat peer Margaret Sharp, as well as responses from leading figures within the FE sector.

In her introduction to the document, Dame Ruth writes that not all FE and skills providers have been “loyal to the future”, and not all leaders have been prepared to face change or to play a part in building the future of the sector.

“We have not always been assertive enough,” she writes: “[It is] time to change.”

She says the sector must get better at talking to politicians and making them see the value in what it does by making a clear case for how important it is.

“We need to capture and utilise what the sector knows, bring it to the surface, and give colleagues the time and opportunity to think that they have never had before,” she adds.

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