#ReimagineFE19 Digital Session- for those who can’t be with us on 2 July

During our #ReimagineFE19 conference lunch this Tuesday 2nd July, Sarah-Jane Crowson and Jo Fletcher-Saxon will be co-convening ReimagineFE’s first digital session. Using a Padlet (online pinboard), Jo and Sarah have devised a short activity which asks people who can’t be at the conference to consider what their ideal FE looks like and how they might meet contemporary challenges in their re-design of the sector.  Those attending the conference are also welcome to participate.

Click here to access our digital Padlet. You can go ahead and add your thoughts at any time, and you are especially invited join in ‘live’ at 12:30 during our conference lunchbreak on 2 July.

Below, Sarah and Jo discuss the project and why it was important to pilot an online space at the conference.

Why did you want to bring a digital element to re-imagine?

Sarah: I feel passionately about inclusion. When I was a single parent with two young children, I found that I couldn’t get to places/spaces that I wanted to. Using digital spaces is an enabler; it lets people who can’t travel, or can’t get time off a way of still sharing their ideas and being part of the conversation.

Jo: I am aware now more than ever how difficult it can be for some colleagues in further education to attend professional development events due to budget constraints in colleges.  ReimagineFE is a unique conference event on the FE conference landscape that really is about sector voices.  I felt strongly about the voices of those not in the room being captured if at all possible, so the idea of an easy to access digital platform felt like a good addition.

Why an online pinboard rather than a tweet chat or a google doc?

Sarah: Jo suggested it! We thought about using (initially) just video conferencing but weren’t sure how far the infrastructure at the conference would support this. We wanted to make the session as user friendly as we could and Padlet is great for this as it’s easy to share the link and for people to post. It also lets us try out the design of the session in advance to check everything works.

We’ll be using twitter alongside Padlet to launch and discuss the live session!

Jo: Although I’m an advocate of the benefit of Twitter, I full realise not everyone is!  Those of us who use Twitter might think lots of educators in FE do, but they really don’t.  So I was keen that we use something that is commonly in use in further education, easy to use and navigate to, even for a complete beginner. We are also creating Padlets for each of the working groups at the conference so this will sit nicely with those and feed into the conference themes and outputs from the day.

What does the session look like?

Sarah: Well, first you’re asked to imagine a ‘different’ type of FE and describe what it looks like. Then you’re invited to choose a ‘chance’ card which uses the conference themes to dig down into how you might solve a ‘wicked’ problem in FE…if I tell you any more I’ll give the game away!

Jo: What Sarah said!  We have used the conference themes to generate the scenarios within this activity.  ‘Wicked’ problems are problems that are difficult to solve because of incomplete, contradictory or changing requirements.  That sounds like FE to us!  So you’ll be presented with these (very recognisable) problems to solve but in rather unusual contexts.  We can’t wait to see what you suggest!

How did you collaboratively design the session?

Sarah: Well, Jo works about four hours drive away from my college, so we didn’t get to meet up. We managed a brief chat at a Learning Skills Research Network meet and then worked together using a live ‘google’ doc and slack group to discuss. Jo did all the liaising with the Reimagine planning team!

Jo: Working remotely and digitally has really been a learning curve for me and I have developed a completely new set of skills.  Similarly, joining in an activity like this may develop participants’ skills (or just be enjoyable!).  The activity draws from ideas of design fiction to provoke critical thinking, as we create possible or potential new futures for FE.  It’s a ‘digital story telling’ session. Sound unusual?  Often removing the constraints of normal conference proceedings can open up new ways of thinking.

What would you like to happen?

Sarah: Just for people to join in. For people to join in and for the technology not to crash. And for it to be clear enough to follow so that participants get something from the session. It’s a pilot – the first time that we’ve tried this, so it might be bumpy, but even one person who wanted to attend the conference joins in and gets their voice heard I will be happy.

Jo: For people to give it a go, go with the flow, speak up and be heard.  Using technology is always risky but we are going to give it a whirl.  As Sarah says, if even just one person who can’t be there is able to participate because of this, we will be very happy indeed.

And finally

The web link to join in the activity and read the instructions will be shared through various means as we approach the conference.  Here on this blog, in emails and of course on Twitter!  It will also be handed out with the conference booklet so that people on the day at the event can join in if they wish (or they can send the link to someone back at their college and invite them to join in). It will remain open beyond the lunchtime too for people to participate.  Want to get in touch?  Feel free to email Jo: jmf@asfc.ac.uk or tweet to her at @jfletchersaxon.

Employer Engagement in FE

By Alice Eardley & Alex Warner of Activate Learning, convenors of the Employer Engagement working group at #ReimagineFE19

In a keynote presentation delivered at last year’s 5th International Conference on Employer Engagement, Kevin Orr, Professor of Work and Learning at the University of Huddersfield, laid down a significant challenge to the Further Education sector, asserting that:

“We need to reclaim the importance of pedagogy” (Orr, 2018).

Building on the work of, among others, Bill Lucas, Ellen Spencer and Guy Claxton, Orr argued for renewed vigor in our thinking not just about what we teach but how we teach it (Lucas et al., 2012).  In this context,“the relationship between employment experience and experience in colleges or in other educational institutions is … crucial” (Orr, 2018). For students,  encounters with the workplace and with employers are an essential element of vocational education – but as educators we need to have a much stronger understanding of how, from a pedagogical perspective, we can manage these encounters to ensure the best outcomes for students.

Orr was responding, in part, to the Post-16 Skills Plan, published in 2016, which puts employers at the forefront of vocational education. In setting out their principles for a reformed skills system the authors state that “Firstly, and most importantly, employers must play a leading role” (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (2016), p. 12). They go on to add that “Employers, working with expert education professionals, need to set the standards; they must define the skills, knowledge and behaviours required for skilled employment”. The Skills Report is very clear that robust skills education results from a partnership between employers and educators. It is also clear in its ambitions for the outcomes of this reformed system, with a holistic emphasis on skills, knowledge, and behaviour. What it doesn’t tell us, however, is the best method for using that partnership to deliver the desired outcomes. We are given a framework that opens up opportunities for us to use employer-educator partnerships to develop cutting-edge approaches to skills education and it is up to us to decide what we want to do with those opportunities.

In addition, however, we also need to think carefully about the outcomes we want employer-educator partnerships to have for young people. The aim of the Skills Plan is to put in place an education system capable of producing “highly skilled people, trained effectively, to grow the economy and raise productivity”, and to “ensure prosperity and security for individuals” (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (2016), p. 7). It envisions a skilled workforce capable of securing its own economic comfort and security and also that of the nation as a whole. While these economic aims are important, they are often not, and, arguably, should not be, the sole purpose of education. There is compelling evidence that, as organisations such as Education and Employers, for example, have demonstrated, employer-educator partnerships can benefit students in a range of ways, many of which may support their development as future employees but which also have far broader personal and social implications (Jones et al., 2016). Research that we have undertaken at Activate Learning colleges suggests that encounters with employers can have a direct impact on how students perceive their own agency and their capacity to have a positive impact on the world beyond the sphere of work (Eardley and Warner, 2019). When developing our ideas around employer-engaged pedagogy, therefore, we need to be mindful of the kinds of outcomes we want to achieve, and this may involve looking beyond immediate economic impact.

The upshot of all of this is that we know that working partnerships between employers and educators are vitally important. If we succeed in getting them right they can bring about tremendous benefits both for individuals and for society as a whole. This applies to economic security and development but also to much broader human and social factors. There isn’t, however, much clear information about what “getting them right” means. The aim of the Employer Engagement session at the #ReimagineFE19 conference on July 2 at Birmingham City University is, therefore, to start defining some pedagogic principles. To do this, we will be addressing a series of questions. What outcomes do we want to secure for students? What do we need to do in the classroom and in the workplace to achieve this? How do we plan for continuity (or productive discontinuity in Orr’s framework) between educational institutions and employment experience? We welcome everyone (educator or employer) with an interest in sharing their experience and ideas in order to reclaim the importance of pedagogy in FE settings.


Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Education. (2016). Post-16 Skills Plan. [online] Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Education. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/post-16-skills-plan-and-independent-report-on-technical-education [Accessed 13 June 2019].

Eardley, A., and Warner, A. (2019). Developing a Two-Way Street Partnership Between College and Industry. [online] Education and Training Foundation. Available at: https://www.et-foundation.co.uk/blog/developing-a-two-way-street-partnership-between-college-and-industry/ [Accessed 13 June 2019].

Jones, S., Mann, A. and Morris, K. (2016). The ‘Employer Engagement Cycle’ in Secondary Education: analysing the testimonies of young British adults. Journal of Education and Work, 29(7), pp. 834-856. Available at: https://www.educationandemployers.org/research/the-employer-engagement-cycle-in-secondary-education-analysing-the-testimonies-of-young-british-adults/ [Accessed 13 June 2019].

Lucas, B., Spencer, E. and Claxton, G. (2012). How to Teach Vocational Education: A Theory of Vocational Pedagogy. [online] City and Guilds Skills Development. Available at: https://www.educationinnovations.org/sites/default/files/How-to-teach-vocational-education.pdf [Accessed 13 June 2019].

Orr, K. (2018). Keynote presentation delivered at the 5th International Conference on Employer Engagement. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iidVb-IkKbs [Accessed 13 June 2019].

The Impact of College-based Higher Education

By Andy McGill and Michelle McGill, Lecturers at Lincoln College and convenors of the HE in FE working group at #ReimagineFE19

One might ask themselves why a post about higher education (HE) is found on the #ReimagineFE19 conference blog? Well, while the majority of HE provision is delivered by universities, FE is also an important contributor to this sector, with approximately 151,000 students enrolled onto HE programmes that were delivered in FE colleges during 2017 (Association of Colleges, 2017). This accounts for approximately 1 in 10 HE students. The terms ‘second class’ and ‘poor relation’ have been levelled at this college based HE (CBHE) when compared to HE delivered within the traditional university setting (Rapley, 2014; Elland, 2008).

The Dearing report in 1997 acted as the main catalyst for the increased delivery of HE within FE, with colleges given a pivotal role to play in the widening participation agenda (Fraser et al., 2009). The agenda was intended to be a means by which social justice could be achieved by providing a pathway for improved social mobility of students from the lower socio-economic groups (Robinson, 2012). There is, however, a growing debate around the importance of understanding exactly what HE in FE is (Kadi-Hanafi & Elliott, 2016), with criticism levelled at its ability to provide the students with genuine HE experiences.

One area of criticism for CBHE regards a lack of teacher engagement with scholarly activity. Barnett (2000) suggests that it should be a necessary condition for any HE teacher to be engaged in research, and that HE students have a right to expect it of their teachers. In a study that would lead Barnett (2000) to worry about the general standard of CBHE, Harwood and Harwood (2004) found that only 16.8% of their respondents who delivered CBHE were engaged in any type of research activities. If you agree that ‘…good research should lead to good teaching’ (Wood & Su, 2017, p 460), then you may feel standard of teaching experienced would be impacted in a negative way. However, Aldous (2014) reported that instead of looking to recruit CBHE staff with higher level qualifications or a growing research profile, managers within colleges were quite often looking for CBHE staff with good links to their industry, something that they believed enabled them to draw upon their experiences within the lessons, adding a real life context to underpinning theories and thus helping their students to learn.

So, whilst the government continues to promote and endorse CBHE as a genuine alternative to studying at university, the debate regarding its quality and purpose is likely to rumble on. Indeed, Bathmaker (2016) proposes that more studies are required to determine what exactly is offered to CBHE students. This question will be one of the core themes explored at the upcoming #ReimagineFE19 conference on July 2 at Birmingham City University. If you are a CBHE teacher or involved with CBHE delivery at any level, we would love for you to come along and get involved in the discussions. Ultimately, we want drive forward the debates around CBHE, exploring its impact upon the students and society as a whole.


Aldous, D. (2014). Understanding the complexity of the lived experiences of foundation degree sport lecturers within the context of further education. Sport, Education and Society, 19(4), 472-488.

Association of Colleges. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.aoc.co.uk/sites/default/files/AoC%20College%20Key%20Facts%20201718%20%28web%29.pdf .

Bathmaker, A. (2016). Higher education in further education: The challenges of providing a distinctive contribution that contributes to widening participation. Research in Post-Compulsory Education, 21(1-2), 20-32.

Barnett, R. (2000). Realising the university in an age of supercomplexity. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Eland, J. (2008). “Research? when I don’t know who I am or what I am! A question of identity for HE in FE tutors.” Paper presented at the teaching-research interface: Implications for practice in HE and FE conference, University of Stirling, April 29–30.

Fraser, M., Orange., G, Ah-Lian., K & Stone, M. (2009). The creation, operation and future of HE in FE partnerships conference: HE in FE culture and experience: a partnership perspective, Warwick, 30th – 31st March 2009. Retrieved from http://uplace.org.uk:8080/dspace/handle/10293/165

Harwood, D., & Harwood, J. (2004). Higher education in further education: Delivering higher education in a further education context—a study of five south west colleges. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 28(2), 153-164.

Kadi-Hanifi, K., & Elliott, G. (2016). Appraising and reconfiguring HE in FE through research and critical perspectives. Research in Post-Compulsory Education, 21(1-2), 1-8.

Rapley, E. (2014). Horses for courses, or a grumble in the jungle? HE in FE student perceptions of the he experience in a land-based college. Research in Post-Compulsory Education, 19(2), 194-211.

Robinson, D. (2012). Higher education in further education: student perceptions of the value of foundation degree qualifications. Research in Post-Compulsory Education, 17, 4, 453-469.

Wood, M., & Su, F. (2017). What makes an excellent lecturer? academics’ perspectives on the discourse of “teaching excellence” in higher education. Teaching in Higher Education, 22(4), 451-466.


Free places for GCSE English/Maths group

It is a great pleasure to announce that the University and Colleges Union (UCU) is sponsoring the GCSE English and Maths Resits working group at the #ReimagineFE19 conference, to be held at Birmingham City University on 2 July, 2019. The free tickets are available to anyone in the broader FE sector to attend the conference and join the group, including colleagues from colleges, sixth forms, UTCs, ACL, Offender Learning, charities and training providers.

A taster for the working group
Reimagining the GCSE English/maths Resit Classroom will explore how we can create an holistic approach to assessment and pedagogy that connects to the digital age of our students. Stephen Tierney states: ‘In England, the accountability system wags everything else…the greatest issue is what happens as a consequence of the exams,’ (Closing the Gap/Report). This working group will reimagine the GCSE English and maths resit classroom and ask: how can educators ensure that the ‘greatest issue’ is about meaningful outcomes for today’s learners who are at risk of being failed by an exam-oriented system? The group is led by Elizabeth Draper, Director of English, Warrington & Vale Royal College; Danny Rimmer, Teaching and Learning Manager, Warrington & Vale Royal College; and Michael Smith, Learning Innovation Manager, Barking and Dagenham College.

For more information about the #ReimagineFE19 conference, visit our website. 

If you would like to receive one of the sponsored places, please send an email to Suzanne Savage for more information. Tickets will be allocated on a first come/ first served basis, so we recommend you get in touch soon.

Please also help us reach the wider FE community by sharing this information with your personal networks.

We Need to Talk About Digital

By Lynne Taylerson of Real Time Education
Convenor of Critical Perspectives on Digital Technology at #ReimagineFE19

In the last few months much renewed energy and focus seems to have been placed on digital skills and the use of learning technology in FE and Skills, from a ‘top down’ perspective at least. Some of this impetus came in the form of the Digital Teaching Professional Framework (DTPF), ETF’s new ‘competency’ framework. The DTPF’s purpose is described by the Foundation as setting out ‘what competency looks like’ for digital teaching and training activities; it invites educators to declare themselves as being at 1 of 3 three stages of competence, Exploring, Adopting or Leading in digital use the map their professional learning against it:

Digital Teaching Professional Framework

It seems welcome that the DTPF’s advent was accompanied by the launch of the Enhance Digital Teaching Platform which provides educators with 50 ‘bite-size’ videos on digital pedagogy and tools which can be used alongside classroom-based activities and collegiate dialogues to develop practice and earn digital ‘badges’ to track progress.

Hard on the DTPF’s heels, the government unveiled its new Ed Tech Strategy for England which announced partnerships between tech firms and schools and colleges. Though the strategy promised £10m of ‘innovation funding’ to ‘raise the bar’ for developing digital skills for the workplace, the vocabulary used at its launch was notable for the fact that it prioritised management, data and outcomes and workload streamlining while barely mentioning learning.

Though top-down themes emerging from these new initiatives seem centred on the world of work and employability, or ‘learning for earning’ as Biesta (2006) put it, in informal online communities, teachers appear to be holding entirely different dialogues. It appears far more common to drop in on teachers discussing how digital tools can empower learners and their communities, provide alternative texts which can help to decolonise the curriculum and encourage learners to become socially and politically more active and emancipated.

Given this disconnect, are sector leaders and government speaking an entirely different language from educators when it comes to the use of digital tools? If so, how can we hope to find some common ground to bring these dialogues together for a common purpose that most benefits our learners? As well as being a debate that will run and run, I can imagine that this issue may be a core focus for the Digital working group at this year’s #ReimagineFE19 conference on 2 July at Birmingham City University. I’ll be convening that group so am eager to hear educators’ voices from the sector who wish to talk about all things digital.

Free places for ACL & Offender Learning

We are delighted to announce that the Education and Training Foundation is sponsoring free #ReimagineFE19 conference tickets for colleagues in both the Adult & Community Learning and Offender Learning sectors. The conference is an excellent opportunity to engage with fellow teachers, managers, leaders and researchers and seek new ways of addressing key challenges in specific areas of our sector.

There will be two working groups which will focus specifically on ACL and Offender Learning:

  • Celebrating 100 years of Adult Learning: what’s next? Convened by Kerry Scattergood, Adult Literacy Tutor, and Isla Flood, ESOL and Foundation Learning Coordinator, both from Solihull College and University Centre.
  • Offender Learning: Finding our collective voice: Convened by Steph Taylor, Adult Education Community Tutor/Mentor, Derbyshire Adult Community Education Service

More information on these groups can be found on our Working Groups page.

#ReimagineFE19 is keen to increase the representation of ACL and Offender Learning colleagues, and we therefore ask you to please share this opportunity widely with your personal networks.

If you would like to receive one of the sponsored places, please send an email to Suzanne Savage for more information. Tickets will be allocated on a first come/ first served basis, so we recommend you get in touch soon.

Tickets for #ReimagineFE19 on sale!

It’s official! Tickets are now on sale for #ReimagineFE19 to be held on 2 July, 2019 at Birmingham City University. Full price tickets will cost £50, but if you act before 12 March, you can buy them with an early bird discount of only £40. Click here to purchase your tickets.

The working groups this year are more diverse than ever. Below is a brief listing of the groups; full details are available on our Working Group page.

  • Reimagining the GCSE English/maths resit classroom: how can we create an holistic approach to assessment and pedagogy that connects to the digital age of our students?
  • ‘Quality’ in FE: from Fear to Faith
  • Celebrating 100 years of Adult Learning: What’s next?
  • Offender Learning: Finding our collective voice
  • The Future of HE in FE
  • Reclaiming the Joy of Teaching
  • Critical Perspectives on Digital Technology
  • Effective Employer Engagement: Strategies and development of guiding principles
  • Coaching and mentoring: Performance management or professional learning?

At #ReimagineFE19, we put the ‘confer’ back into ‘conference’. This is not a day to sit back and listen to the great and the good; this is your opportunity to make your voice heard on issues that really matter to you as an FE teacher, leader or researcher. Join us for a day of re-thinking our approaches and finding our collective voice.

2018 Conference Reports are here!

We know you have all been waiting patiently for the articles from last year’s conference, and we are pleased to say they are here now on our website! They will soon be published in the open access CSPACE Journal, but we are very pleased to make the draft versions available now.

There is rich inspiration to be gained from the collaborative dialogue that was undertaken at #ReimagineFE18 to help you put teaching and learning back into the heart of FE. Enjoy reading… and don’t forget to share these with others who are interested in the themes discussed.

Most importantly, be sure to put 2 July 2019 in your diary for this year’s conference. Tickets will be available by the end of February. Follow updates on twitter at #ReimagineFE19.

Call for Convenors for #ReimagineFE19

After three successful conferences, we are continuing to reimagine further education.

At #ReimagineFE, we are subverting what ‘centre stage’ means. Our focus is not on the people at the front, but the people in the seats: educators, leaders, and researchers. This year, our speakers will be not ‘keynotes’ but provocateurs, and when they stop speaking, the real work begins— this is where we need your contributions.

The theme for 2019 is #FESpeaks. We want to position #ReimagineFE at the heart of an ongoing programme across the rich diversity of the further education sector. This summer’s conference is part of a challenging, raw and much-needed conversation which unites our voices and brings us together in projects, discussions and networks.

The focus of the day remains the same: providing a space where FE practitioners can revitalise their thinking and work towards developing new visions for the sector. Working groups have always been the most important element of #ReimagineFE.


We are looking for educators, leaders, and researchers from all walks of FE life to volunteer as working group convenors at the #ReimagineFE conference on 2nd July at Birmingham City University. Whatever your current role, whatever FE context you work in, if you’re the sort of person who has ideas and energy about the future of FE, we want you to get involved.

We don’t expect convenors to have all the answers; what is required is curiosity and the ability to ask some key questions around a particular theme of interest to you and others in the sector. Colleagues in adult and community learning, prison education and third sector learning are particularly encouraged to get in touch.

Download our Call for Convenors for more information about the role and how to express your interest in it. Contact Suzanne Savage suzanne.savage@bcu.ac.uk if you have any questions. Deadline is 20 January 2019.

Join the #ReimagineFE19 Steering Committee

We are casting our minds forward to the next conference with a Call for Expressions of Interest to join the #ReimagineFE Steering Committee. After 3 successful conferences, the time has come to turn over organisation of the next conference to the wider FE community. BCU are pleased to continue hosting and Suzanne Savage and Matt O’Leary will retain an executive role in coordinating the conference, but the vision and development rightly belong to those of you who are working in the further education sector.

With this in mind, we are calling for Expressions of Interest to join a new Steering Committee comprised of approximately 5-7 people. Click here to download information about responsibilities of the steering committee and instructions for expressing interest in joiningThe deadline is midnight on 7 October, 2018.