I was working late in my office the other night, at Chesterfield College when there was a knock on the door. Without waiting for an answer in strolled a furry looking chap who put the kettle on and settled himself down at my conference table.
“Who are you?” I asked puzzled.
“I’m curriculum,” he said with a toothy smile.
“No way,” I shook my head in denial, “curriculum has been deployed and is working hard in the classroom.”
“Ahh,” he said. “That’s my little brother the 2012/13 curriculum. I’m the 2013/14 curriculum." He took his cap off and showed me his pointed ears and just for a second his eyes seemed to glow with a strange yellow hue. “I’m bigger, badder and need to be Wolf compliant.”
If you are working in further education then it is time to look at your 2013/14 curriculum with a critical eye. The implications of the Wolf review of vocational education and the corresponding changes to funding methodology are significant and will form the cornerstone of your planning cycle. Wolf requires providers to reconsider their mainstream provision and ensure it meets local and national needs. Also to offer substantive programmes that don’t lead to ‘cul-de-sac’ qualifications while promoting English and maths, work placement and employability.
What can you do to prepare for the changes ahead?
Chesterfield College planning for 2012/13 was subject to a good practice case study for our innovative use of technology in securing an outstanding curriculum with significant efficiencies. This year we have to go one better and secure a Wolf compliant curriculum with additional significant efficiencies. We are starting from the ground up to build something fresh and innovative with the technology at our disposal. It is exciting and exhilarating to build a curriculum with the power to transform lives and we are continuing to receive great support from the East Midlands RSC and curriculum network groups which have been assisting our innovations and ‘sense checking’ our developments.
I believe the key to building a strong curriculum is in the groundwork; good preparation and teamwork are everything.
So... if you sitting comfortably, I’ve provided what I hope is some helpful advice for senior managers. Let’s begin.
1. Audit, Audit, Audit
How does your current curriculum stack up against your shadow allocation, and what the Wolf report requires? You might be lucky, you may be better off or see no change, but I’d be prepared to bet that it is an ugly picture for some providers and that there are some worried senior management teams up and down the land.
Audit your 2012/13 provision against the funding bands in the new methodology. How many of your learners sit just below a funding band? What could you do to gently topple them over? Have you planned for rolling starts throughout the year to increase your participation number? How will you build this into the 2013/14 plan?
Top Tip – Think about which teams you’re going to need extra support from such as your management information systems (MIS) team and forewarn them that you’ll need their time.
<2. Substantive Long Programmes
Are all your full time programmes substantive? Even those little awards and certificates that you think no-one will notice? Your programmes need to be substantive and coherent. If you have been maximising your standard learner numbers (SLN) you now have some hard choices to make in terms of what to keep and what to remove. The ‘perverse incentives’ to funding short courses often referred to by government always seemed to me like a fabulous opportunity to provide learners with a top notch suite of qualifications which made them more employable. Have you looked at the implications of the loss of these qualifications of your 2013/14 staffing analysis?
Top Tip – Look at the implications of the funding methodology on staffing before your middle managers start too. You may need to be ready to field some tough questions.
3. Labour Market Intelligence (LMI)
Are you using effective labour market intelligence to inform your curriculum choices? How do you explain all those hairdressers you are training then? Robust LMI is now at the heart of an effective curriculum and should inform your choices about what to launch and what to retire. You need to gather significant LMI from a variety of external and internal sources. You can’t just roll over the same curriculum you’ve always had with annual ‘tweaks’ – it is the educational equivalent of putting go faster stripes on an Austin Allegro. Your learners and employers deserve better than this.
Top Tip – Don’t reinvent the wheel, the Skills Sector Councils hold significant amounts of up to date LMI, use it to your advantage.
4. English and maths
What does your maths and English provision look like? Are your functional skills success rates outstanding or crying in a corner after being beaten up by the GCSE bullies? You need to ensure your 2013/14 curriculum has English and maths written all the way through like a stick of Skegness rock. Ensure all learners are given the opportunity to develop their English and maths skills via comprehensive and inclusive GCSE provision, stand alone qualifications and functional skills. If you have high proportions of learners who already have GCSEs at grade C or above then offer them the opportunity to extend their knowledge with an AS alongside their main provision.
Top tip – Don’t assume because learners have grade C or above you don’t have a responsibility to stretch them further.
5. Work placements
Under Wolf more learners than ever will be required to undertake work placements. How are you going to plan for this, especially with hard to engage sectors, such as construction? Are your work placement protocols and systems ready for significant growth? You need to ensure your local environment has sufficient opportunities for placements and plan accordingly. Nothing will annoy employers more than multiple departments calling to secure work placements with zero coordination between them.
Top Tip – Use your customer relationship management tool wisely.
And my final piece of advice would be to highlight the best defence against the big bad Wolf. Don’t build a curriculum made of straw!