Putting it into practice
Maggie Galliers and Louise Hazel describe how the Whole Organisation Approach is working in their college
John Denham's statement (left) was music to the ears of many of us working in FE. In Leicester, the issue is particularly acute. We have well over a third of adults with low or no qualifications, the highest non-white population in the country, low educational achievement pre-16, and high levels of deprivation; there is a significant need for Skills for Life.
Leicester College is the main provider of Skills for Life in Leicester; our response to this need was critical and we realised that we had to raise our game. This prompted us to adopt a Whole Organisation Approach(1) to Skills for Life. 'WOA' was a new concept for us but quickly became a means of securing wholesale change and improvement.
A crucial element of the strategy was engendering a sense of shared responsibility. Although it was important to identify a champion at senior level, much of the early work involved getting cross-College engagement and putting a new vision for Skills for Life at the core of College activity.
We identified priorities for development, including improving initial assessment and target setting, tracking learners' progress and developing teaching capacity. There is evidence that embedding Skills for Life in vocational areas can increase success rates, so developing embedded provision was also a priority.
Improvements were made in the recording and interpretation of results from diagnostic tests. Three teacher-led improvement projects generated discrete and embedded provision and Skills for Life qualifications are now delivered in all curriculum areas.
There were some significant and rapid improvements. Learner numbers increased by 9.5% among 16-18 year olds and by 38% among adults. This helped us to buck the trend at a time when the impact of fees for ESOL was starting to bite.
Quality improved and Ofsted inspection rated our discrete literacy and numeracy
as 'outstanding'. It also identified very high achievement rates and progression
to vocational courses, and highly effective teaching and learning and sharing
of good practice. There were other, unanticipated, impacts. We started to think
differently about ssessment,
including pioneering online assessment with OCR(2) and changing our approach to accreditation. This increased the urgency for a sound IT infrastructure, particularly in our community venues, which had to be networked to allow online testing in places that were convenient to learners.
It also raised issues around staff development. Pre-empting the Skills Pledge, we had cleaners attending Skills for Life programmes and hairdressing lecturers taking key skills. We also recognised the need to upskill our teaching workforce and so established a portfolio of level 4/5 specialist teacher training.
Adopting a Whole Organisation Approach has linked us into a wider network of providers including other colleges, the learning partnership and the probation service. This has enabled us to work with a wider community, to learn from others' expertise and to access the support needed by different groups of learners. Networks like this will be important in the increasingly integrated employment and skill system that the Government is planning.
Clearly, there is still much more we can do around the Foundation Learning Tier and progression routes, 14-19 functional skills, and in enhancing teaching capacity. But the Whole Organisation Approach has helped us make a step-change in how we deliver Skills for Life. Perhaps most importantly, it has reaffirmed to us the importance of these vital first skill levels and the need to put them at the heart of our offer.
Maggie Galliers is Principal and Louise Hazel is Policy and Planning Officer at Leicester College
(1) See www.woasfl.org
(2) Oxford Cambridge and RSA Examinations, an awarding body