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ViewPoint: Covid 19 and Remote Working: Beware the ‘TEMPLE OF ZOOM’
June 15, 2020
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ARTICLE BY Ab Banerjee

Just as in nature, survival among businesses is determined by the ability to adapt to change. 

It’s estimated that as a result of the coronavirus pandemic a quarter of the world’s population now finds itself living under some form of quarantine restrictions. Hundreds of millions of workers spread across multiple continents all suddenly find themselves forced to work remotely and in isolation from their teams. This detachment risks a loss of staff cohesion, a collapse in productivity and, ultimately, a decline in overall commercial function.

Everyday face-to-face interaction in the workplace between co-workers themselves and their managers is often valuable for all parties. We can use it to pose questions, offer updates, gather feedback, read body language, benchmark our performance and, ultimately, collate the information to inform our decision-making. But, by losing the close physical proximity of the working environment we lose this feedback mechanism.

Overcommunication and the rise of the ‘Temple of Zoom’
Organisations have recognised this loss and have looked to compensate. The event and conference provider, TED, for example, has begun creating virtual spaces where staff can have the simulated experience of working alongside their co-workers in a relaxed coffee shop environment. More common, though, is the widespread embrace of videoconferencing platforms, such as Zoom, and online team collaboration tools like Slack.

There are few winners from the coronavirus crisis, but Zoom is one of them. It’s been used to host birthday parties, business meetings and even Cabinet briefings. App tracking firm Apptopia has reported that Zoom was downloaded 2.13m times around the world on 23 March, the day the lockdown was announced in the UK – up from 56,000 a day two months earlier. The company’s share price has more than doubled since the start of the year.

The difficulty is applications such as Zoom, Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams have their pitfalls. In a bid to compensate for the loss of everyday informal interaction, managers and co-workers often lean towards having more phone calls, scheduling more frequent videoconferences, and sending more emails. All of a sudden momentary and informal discussions in the office have escalated into regular, lengthy video seminars involving multiple team members and often with no guarantee employees will gain the knowledge they’re looking for. Communication overloads. Productivity slumps.

Providing an effective feedback and performance mechanism
Platforms such as Zoom are effective for brainstorming sessions and formal business meetings, but they shouldn’t be relied upon as an effective forum for receiving feedback and performance assessment. Not everything you see on people’s faces is necessarily easy to interpret. Also, in group settings it’s almost impossible to get a sense of how you (and even more importantly your team) are perceived. 

A key challenge facing managers is how to provide remote workers with an effective facility through which they can receive feedback and measure their cooperation with co-workers.

We’ve spent lots of time looking at and understanding how teams interact and deliver feedback. We’ve developed a tracking metric for team cooperation called TeamScore which acts as a performance tracker for use by teams, both in the office and remotely. It combines a diagnostic toolkit to help teams understand where they need to improve, and crowdsourced feedback and coaching advice to understand how they can.

In a remote working environment, the need for feedback becomes heightened, but the capacity to receive it is reduced. By providing team members with a platform through which they can individually, and as a team, receive and offer real-time feedback in the form of performance ratings and constructive suggestions for improvement satisfies this need. It helps individuals and teams find meaning by being empowered to do good work whilst also being recognised for it. Importantly, it also does so without the disruption associated with having multiple videoconferences.

Cooperation is also a two-way street. The feeling of having a voice, being heard, and seeing tangible improvements in outcomes is among the most empowering enablers of employee engagement and one of the opportunities most at risk from remote working. The platform gives remote working individuals and teams the ability to give feedback to others too, whether to individuals, to other teams or even to teams external to their organisation.

This last element, the provision of an effective feedback mechanism to individuals and teams in external organisations, such as a client or other important stakeholders is in some ways even more critical. Struggling to adapt to remote working themselves, often these teams will have an even lower tolerance and capacity for frequent, disruptive Zoom calls to deliver feedback. This leaves the provider in search of an alternative option. Less invasive, online, real-time and interactive platforms like ViewsHub satisfy this function.

Beyond Zoom
The coronavirus pandemic has brought massive change to all our lives. Remote working is one. Technological innovations such as Zoom are invaluable tools to help maintain team cohesion and function. But we must be careful of overreliance and overcommunication. Online real-time feedback platforms and easily digestible performance trackers for team performance offer the facility to boost productivity, encourage effective team working, and continually track client-service levels. 

Ab Banerjee, CEO of ViewsHub

ViewPoint: ‘Furious’ AELP Boss Says Government Wants Skills Sector to Collapse
March 24, 2020
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The government’s goal seems to be for the skills sector to “collapse”, a “furious” Mark Dawe has told FE Week after officials failed to provide apprenticeship funding support during the Covid-19 crisis.

The Association of Employment and Learning Providers chief executive tonight lambasted the “disgraceful” decision and demanded an urgent meeting with skills minister Gillian Keegan.

New guidance released by the Department for Education stated that policy “does not allow payment for services in advance of delivery”, so funding for apprenticeships cannot be made until the training has taken place.

The situation has left providers in a “battle to survive”.

Dawe told FE Week: “I am furious that after weeks of discussions the government has made no attempt to provide any assurance to independent providers and end-point assessment organisations as to any future funding relating to any of their delivery.

“It seems their goal is for the sector to collapse and remove any delivery to apprentices, other learners and their hundreds of thousands of employers.  As things stand tonight, there is only one word – disgraceful.”

Here is his reaction in full: “The omission of any DfE funding support for apprenticeships and other skills training goes completely against the assurance offered by the Secretary of State to the House of Commons last week.

“ We are left to conclude that the government is not serious about apprenticeship training or any other forms of skills training continuing while the pandemic goes on or that it is very happy to preside over many independent training providers (ITPs) going out of business over the next three months.

“How are providers expected to implement the proposed flexibilities in today’s statement if they have vastly reduced income coming in? It is now a battle for survival. The majority of provider staff will be furloughed which means they will not be available to support the training of apprentices and other learners.

“Coming after Friday’s guaranteed funding support for mainstream FE provision, the DfE statement adds insult to injury. For example, it says that “government policy does not allow payment for services in advance of delivery” and yet this is precisely what it announced for colleges on Friday.  ITPs delivering adult education, traineeships and other forms of training have similarly been offered zero assurance by today’s statement.

“Then on apprenticeships, the statement goes further and lays down terms for clawback of funding from independent training providers if the crisis means that apprenticeships can’t be completed.  Given that it is not their fault that they cannot gain access to apprentices or assess them, this is beyond the pale.

“Unless the government urgently rethinks its stance that it has had two weeks to think about, we are likely to see the start of the collapse of the training and assessment sector over the next week unless action is taken on funding, and those employers who want training and assessment to continue will have no place to go when this is over.

“Colleges only deliver 2 per cent of apprenticeship training.  This means that they are no position to rush in and fill the gaps that will appear in key sectors and in many towns and rural areas across the country, including the Red Wall areas, if ITPs, who deliver nearly seven out of 10 apprenticeships, start going bust.  Niche provision in sectors like textiles will also suffer very badly.

“Another important point on the quality of provision is that nearly all ITPs have made the transition across to the new apprenticeship standards whereas less than six months away from the switch-off of frameworks, many colleges are lagging in making the change.

“So employers looking to get back on their feet after the end of the pandemic will find that the apprenticeships that they want won’t be available to them.  And soon that other oven-ready solution of EU migrant labour won’t be there either to fill the gaps.

“What about this year’s school-leavers aged 16 or 18?  Where are the opportunities going to be for them if lots of apprenticeship training providers are no longer around?

“This is why any further delay on a funding support package for apprenticeships and ITPs is totally unacceptable.

“AELP has this evening demanded an urgent meeting with the apprenticeships and skills minister.  We also hope that MPs on the Commons Education Committee will be raising these issues with the minister when she appears before them on Wednesday.”

ViewPoint: Reasons to be Cheerful About Careers Education?
March 6, 2020
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By John Yarham

Arguing about whether a glass is half-empty or half-full is a futile task. The whole point is that both are true, depending on your perspective.

John Yarham, Interim Chief Executive at the Careers & Enterprise Company
John Yarham, Interim Chief Executive at the Careers & Enterprise Company

The more helpful point to debate is whether the glass is filling-up or emptying. Are schools making progress, or are they falling behind? Are we moving in the right direction, or are we going backwards?

It’s National Careers Week this week, as well as being the last year of the Government’s Careers Strategy.

So now is a good time to have that debate about the state of careers education.

Research informed debate

Two recent pieces of research have helped to inform the debate. Education and Employers published a report looking at the careers aspirations of young people. Just over half of young people (53%) felt that their school or college had spent enough time helping them to understand future career options.

A month ago we also published research that took a measurement of the state of careers education provision in schools and colleges across the country. Specifically, we looked at how many young people are benefitting from the opportunity to regularly interact with employers while at school.

This matters in the real world because there is a weight of evidence that enjoying more ‘employer encounters’ while at school improves young people’s employability and earnings in later life. It even has an impact on their motivation and results while at school.

It matters to the Government so much that in 2017, they set an ambitious target that every single young person in the country would benefit from at least one such ‘employer encounter’ every year by the end of 2020.

A long way to go

Our report highlighted that one-in-five young people are still missing out on such regular employer encounters. On its own, this stat could leave us with the feeling that the glass was very much half-empty. And we’re first ones to admit there is a long way to go.

But it’s important that people don’t lose sight of the fact that careers education has been transformed for the better over last couple of years. There is strong evidence that schools and colleges are going in the right direction. And most importantly many, many more young people are benefiting.

In 2017, the year the Government published the Careers Strategy setting these targets, we made our first assessment to provide a baseline. This showed that to meet these targets, schools, colleges and businesses would need to work together to provide an additional 1.2million employer encounters every single year by the end of 2020. A huge task.

More and more young people benefiting

The evidence we published last month showed that as of July 2019, this gap had fallen massively. In just two years, and from a standing start, half a million more young people every year are benefiting from meeting employers.

There is still a big gap to fill, and it’s not going to be easy or straightforward. But this represents significant progress, and a significant benefit for more and more young people. The gap was never going to be closed overnight.

The approach that this country is taking to careers education is like nothing that has gone before. Reflecting the autonomy of schools and colleges, an emphasis has been placed on providing them with the tools and support to drive improvement themselves.

Employers have been at the forefront of efforts to support young people, with a common language – the Gatsby Benchmarks – underpinning all activity. Over the last couple of years, schools, colleges, employers have bought into this approach and young people are enjoying the benefits.

Ambitious goals, but the approach is working

The period from July 2019 to the end of 2020 has given schools and colleges 18 months to make more progress against the Careers Strategy ambition. The energy and thrust schools, colleges and employers are showing provides confidence that we can reduce the gap much more.

It was right that the Careers Strategy set ambitious goals that are hard to achieve, even if that can sometimes make the scale of the task seem daunting. So, at this point in time, is the glass half-full or half-empty? Well, we fully expect that debate to continue, and we welcome the healthy challenge provided.

But it would be a shame if that debate made us lose sight of the fact that the approach we’re taking is working. It would be a mistake to go back to a time when work experience was a box ticking exercise, rather than something schools could own as part of their commitments to students’ well-being.

More and more young people are benefiting and that’s what matters.

John Yarham, Interim Chief Executive at the Careers & Enterprise Company

John was previously chief executive at Futures Management Group, and director of economic development and skills and learning at Nottingham City Council.

ViewPoint: This is Why Career Plans are Bad for Employees
March 4, 2020
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By STACEY ENGLE

growth plan

Organizations must prioritize professional development if they want to retain talent. It’s that clear cut and simple.

This statement was controversial 10 years ago, but thank goodness it is more accepted today. Most leaders at some level will say yes, true, we need to provide professional development. 

However, what is still quite controversial is demanding leaders to have growth conversations that put employees in the driver’s seat.

Let me be clear: many leaders encourage employees to be accountable for their own development, but it is a much different ball game when leaders have employees choose to drive and step into their own development. 

According to GALLUP, 87 percent of millennials and 69 percent of non-millennials rate professional or career growth and development opportunities as important to them in a job. Yet according to CEB, 70 percent of employees are dissatisfied with their company’s growth options and choices.

Here’s the thing — what’s often missing from the career path conversation is an emphasis on allowing the individual to plot their own course of growth. Asking the right questions. Creating pre-planned paths for development can be beneficial for sparking ideas and providing options.

But, it’s important that the individual’s vision for themselves be the primary driver behind the plan.

Here’s a great example: I will never forget at our 2017 Fierce Summit, Brian Canlis, special guest and OWNER OF CANLIS RESTAURANT, shared what he asks candidates during the interview process:

“How would being an employee at Canlis help you become the person you want to be?”

This question shifts the context of growth to where it becomes driven by the individual and their vision of who they want to become, rather than what they want to become. The who refers to the human being behind the work. And the answer is different for everyone.

How to Shift Your Growth Context

To some extent, integrating a self-driven approach will require organizations to REDEFINE WHAT GROWTH MEANS because it can be interpreted differently to others.

For example, growth isn’t always about promotions or gaining more knowledge in a particular area. Asking the question “who do you want to be?” is going to elicit a lot of varying responses.

A potential reality we need to keep in mind as leaders in the DEVELOPMENT CONVERSATION is that those we’re coaching may not know where they’re going or who they want to be. 

When encouraging them to plot their own growth, some employees will know exactly who they want to become, while some will only have a vague idea. And others won’t have a clue. 

Sample growth paths can be helpful in this area by providing a possible avenue. If employees don’t have a clue, sharing so different paths and explorations can be the biggest gift of all. 

As leaders, we need to meet employees where they are. Providing sample growth paths that increase skills and accountability over time is important. 

However, it is dangerous to assume that if individuals are provided with the right tools, that they will somehow follow specific paths. Exit interviews often reveal these types of disconnects. 

A great example is a conversation I had recently with a young executive leader at a Fortune 500 company. He shared with me that he felt he had been given every development opportunity and resource to get to the next level of his career. That’s great, right?

Enthusiastically, I asked him how he felt about it all. To my surprise, he told me that he wasn’t sure the level his company wants him to attain is what he actually desires. 

Worse yet, he said he feels his leaders aren’t responding to what he wants to build at the company, and instead he said they talk like “I owe them something” because an investment has been made in him. Woah. Talk about a disconnect. 

In plotting a course of growth, plans obviously need to be intentional or they will fail. However, sample growth plans run the risk of being too prescriptive if we become attached to them

People don’t know what they don’t know, so it’s important for organizations to walk the line of providing potential growth paths and being open to alternative paths that will naturally unfold when the individual is made an agent of their own growth. 

Overly-prescriptive pathing is also a hindrance for organizations that want to be more innovative — it doesn’t work for people, and it doesn’t work for business.

One way to encourage employees to be an agent of their own development is to have them look for areas of opportunity that will help organizations be more agile. Too often the people deciding what that path is for business aren’t as close to the front lines of the problems, and these people need to be seeking the perspectives of those who actually are. 

The front lines may be able to forecast job positions that aren’t needed now but may be needed in three to four years to come. Being aware of this potential need could provide additional growth options.

How Leaders Can Support a Self-Driven Path

Okay, so if I still have your attention, the natural progression is to ask: How do I shift the organizational mindset? I’d start with all people leaders. They need to be asking their teams:

“In what ways do you want to grow, and how can we fit that into the needs of the business?”

An important part of creating a growth plan is having a real, authentic conversation with yourself. Writing a stump speech is a great way to do this. Have your team members answer the following questions for themselves:

  • Where are you going?
  • Why are you going there?
  • Who is going with you?
  • How are you going to get there?

Keep in mind that not everyone will have an answer to these questions, and you must communicate upfront that it’s perfectly fine to not know. The main benefit of posing these questions is to ignite their thinking around growth and begin exploring possibilities together.

Whether an individual is certain or uncertain about the direction they want to go, having the right growth conversations will stimulate thinking and set their development on a positive trajectory.

One of the best ways to facilitate growth is to ask, “In what areas would you like to gain new responsibilities or grow your skills?” Then begin delegating new tasks in these areas. 

Skilful DELEGATION is, in essence, a growth conversation. With this approach, newly-assigned decision-making opportunities become exciting and can potentially create more clarity in an individual’s growth plan. 

It’s important for leaders to AVOID DELE-DUMPING, an ineffective delegation style where leaders assign tasks without consulting their team members. Dele-dumping often leads to stress instead of growth.

Another immediate way to support employees on their path of growth is to take an ongoing approach to FEEDBACK. When an employee is successful, acknowledge them right then and there so they can gain more awareness of the areas where they excel. 

When things aren’t going so well, explore what they are seeing so they have an early opportunity to respond and learn. If feedback conversations are saved for bi-annual or annual reviews, employees completely miss out on daily opportunities for growth.

A core idea that we need to carry with us and integrate into growth conversations is that our success relies on others. It benefits others when you let them know the potential you see in them, and it can give people ideas and help them see what they may not see. 

I know my personal growth is a direct result of all of the amazing people I have had the privilege to work within my career. I feel grateful for people seeing things in me and saying, “I think you would be great at XYZ.”

Although I’m accountable for my own growth, I’m inherently limited by my own perspective. I wouldn’t be where I am today IF IT WEREN’T FOR THE PERSPECTIVES OF OTHERS and their willingness to communicate what they saw in me.

Take your own growth into your hands, and help others do the same.

ViewPoint: Special Educational Needs Do Not End at 16
February 24, 2020
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By Clare Howard, Chief Executive, Natspec

The reforms to the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) system contained in the 2014 Children and Families Act were a once in a generation systemic change for young people and their families.

return to Natspec home page

For the first time, rights and duties were extended from the earliest years to young adulthood, in a new 0-25 system, giving Further Education colleges and providers new statutory obligations.

Post-16 Special Education Needs

The SEND reforms, combined with the raising of the participation age to the 18th birthday, mean that SEND provision does not end at 16. There are increasingly heavy demands on FE – the number of young people with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) aged 16 to 25 increased from 84,000 to 96,000 between 2018 and 2019.

Whether it is post-16 or post-18/19, the move into further education and training is arguably the least well-developed area of the SEND reforms.

16-18 Year Olds

At some stage between the ages of 16 to 19, these young people and their families will be considering their post-school options. That might be a college place possibly with an element of residential experience, a supported internship, an apprenticeship, or voluntary or paid work.

Leaving school and moving on to something new is both exciting and stressful for any young person, but it can be especially difficult for young people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities, many of whom find change very unsettling. This is further hindered by a funding system that is hard to navigate and lack of information about the full range of options available.

Moving to college (sometimes after 15+ years at the same special school) gives young people a real opportunity for a fresh start; it means making new friends, having new experiences, learning new skills, and experiencing and overcoming new challenges. For many young people it is the ideal stepping- stone from school into adult life.

Expectations for what can be achieved in this last – and shortest – phase of education are rightly set high. The impact of high-quality further education for learners with SEND can be enormous – for the young people themselves, for their families, and for wider society.

But currently there are a number of issues getting in the way. What are they – and how might we resolve them?

Education, Health and Care Plans

EHCPs should be well- constructed, based on realistic and personal aspirations, and contain aspirational and specific outcomes. Evidence collected by numerous reviews, the most recent being the Education Select Committee SEND Inquiry, demonstrates that the vast majority are not. Natspec has recommended that DfE introduce a new national EHCP template and better guidance for writing Plans. Timeliness of assessment and finalisation for plans is also an issue; for new EHCPs, SEN stats published by DfE in 2019 show that only 60% were issued within the statutory 20 week deadline in 2018.

Local Authorities

Local authorities are required to inform families with a full range of options and services on their Local Offer websites. With LAs unfamiliar with the FE landscape, and many being unwilling to fund places outside their own area, many colleges and training providers are not included within Local Offers.

An Ofsted thematic report in 2016 reviewed 20 Local Offer websites, and found 16 which “failed to provide sufficiently detailed information…”. This lack of information was a particular problem for those young people with more complex or profound learning difficulties or disabilities”. Natspec’s own research in 2019 found over half of Local Offers did not list specialist colleges as an option, and mainstream colleges were often hard to locate on websites.

Timeliness Decision Making

The proportion of post-school placements that are confirmed before the March 31 legal deadline each year is tiny.

Specialist colleges are reporting that less than 10% of places are confirmed by June, and many students are left in limbo (with all the increased anxiety that results) into August, September or even later. Natspec would like to see LAs working with all post-16 providers to look at supply and demand, develop strategic plans and work jointly across regional areas to account for FE travel patterns and specialist centres.

Quality Provision

All providers should offer a good range of learning opportunities for students with SEND to meet their needs and interests and build on their strengths. Colleges should have rigorous systems for assuring quality, especially if the learning programme is not accredited, and be providing support that prepares the young person to be increasingly independent, including through use of technology (Natspec’s TechAbility programme brings together the best examples of this).

High Aspirations

And finally, all post-16 and post-19 study programmes should have high aspirations and be based on outcomes.

What kind of adult does the young person want to become? What personalised programme of learning is needed to help them get there? The late teenage and early adult years are critical in determining levels of independence and success in adulthood. And the right education at this stage can save the public purse millions later in life.

Clare Howard, Chief Executive, Natspec

ViewPoint: It’s Time to Take on the Subcontracting Profiteers
February 19, 2020
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By SIMON ASHWORTH Chief Operating Officer, Association of Employment and Learning Providers

Subcontractors account for more than 10 per cent of ESFA funding. They need overseeing properly, says Simon Ashworth

It was good to see the ESFA’s Peter Mucklow in edition 306 of FE Week confirming government recognition that subcontracting plays an important role and that there will be not be a complete ban on it.

Some interesting numbers were published as part of the ESFA’s consultation: 674 prime providers subcontract provision to 2,288 subcontractors. The total value of subcontracted provision is £484.5 million – or 10.6 per cent of total ESFA funding. These are big numbers, so it’s no wonder the regulators are keen to ensure appropriate oversight, quality and robustness of provision.

Unfortunately, the ESFA has yet again missed a trick – by failing to implement a cap on fees and charges which could address ‘profiteering’ from subcontracting. They make it clear, though, that they “do not expect funding retained to exceed 20 per cent”, and have linked this to two points previously raised by the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP). Firstly, if more than 20 per cent of the funding is retained, it raises questions about the capacity of the subcontractor to deliver. Secondly, can good quality can be achieved when funding is so reduced?

Apprenticeship subcontracting has already been reformed with the removal of whole programme subcontracting. And the opening up of the Apprenticeship Service to non-levy employers will allow hundreds of providers on the main Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers (RoATP) to access funding directly, without a non-levy contract.

This will impact on those subcontracting relationships – study programmes, traineeships, adult education – which have hitherto been unable to obtain funding. In the case of AEB, a move to full procurement which rewarded prime providers and subcontractors that actually deliver would also reduce the need for subcontracting.

The proposals around geographical restrictions are attracting the most questions from providers. The “no more than one hour away from the prime contractor by car” pledge begs a question: if a prime provider is undertaking the minimum checks as required by the funding rules, then distance should make no difference in terms of oversight of the relationship. What matters, surely, is that properly checked subcontractors might be based miles from their primes while learners might be on their doorstep.

The ESFA also acknowledged that when working with national employers, a distance arrangement for subcontracting “is beneficial”. The focus on geographical restrictions is more about ‘out of area’ funding, particularly the expectations and justification of grant funding being spent on subcontracting in other far-flung areas of the country. The test is whether provision is supporting the local community or being used to generate additional income.

To date, Ofsted has chosen not to inspect subcontractors directly, and they recently gave me an example of why: a subcontractor that worked with three prime providers, where two-thirds of the provision was good and a third poor. The underpinning rationale was that two of the prime providers had full and suitable oversight and supported the subcontractor appropriately, while the third prime provider took a management fee and had no oversight. This highlights the importance of considering the role that the prime provider has in the process (rather than looking at subcontractors in isolation). But political pressure will probably require Ofsted to inspect a selection of the larger subcontractors as part of their risk-based approach.

The ESFA certainly don’t like managing agent models, and within the sector there are still examples of providers that operate as managing agents in all but name – subcontracting out comparably large portions of their allocations. The ESFA is now proposing a phased transition from all providers to a subcontracting limit of just 10 per cent of their total ESFA post-16 income in 2023-24.

Again, this will be a real challenge for parts of the sector that have for too long relied on subcontracting. Ultimately if the funding isn’t being used, let’s get it reallocated to providers who can spend it directly.

ViewPoint: National SEND Strategy Needed to End Funding Crisis
January 31, 2020
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Liberal Democrat MP Munira Wilson has secured a meeting with the Minister for Children and Families to discuss her campaign to end the crisis in funding for children with special educational needs or a disability (SEND) by developing a new national #SEND strategy.

In her first Westminster Hall debate in Parliament, the Liberal Democrat Health spokesperson warned that there was a “perfect storm” in SEND funding as both Conservative school cuts and increased demand on councils had created a system characterised by “delay and indecision”.

In response, the Minister for Children and Families, Michelle Donelan, confirmed she does “share [Munira Wilson] her concerns” and agreed to meet with Munira Wilson to discuss further. 

Looking ahead to the meeting, the Liberal Democrats are calling for the Government to launch a national strategy to end the culture of buck-passing between councils, schools and health services in the design and funding of Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs). The party believes a national strategy would help central and local government better coordinate special school places across the country.

Following the debate, Liberal Democrat MP Munira Wilson said:

“Support for children at school with SEND is faltering. It is trapped in a vicious downward spiral, as Conservative school cuts and increased demand have overburdened the system, leading to delay and indecision. Meanwhile, thousands of children miss out on the assistance they need.

“The Government must use the next Budget to end the SEND funding crisis by injecting funding into the areas that need it most. But we also need leadership from Ministers. A national SEND strategy could help councils share services and expertise, and force schools, councils and health agencies to work together in the interests of every child.

“The education and opportunities we give to our most disadvantaged children depend on us getting the system right. Liberal Democrats will continue to campaign to make sure that the Government tackles those challenges head-on.”

Munira Wilson MP’s debate on SEND funding took place on 29th January. 2020 in Westminster Hall.

In the 2019 General Election, Liberal Democrats campaigned to half the £6,000 many councils force schools to pay towards a child on an EHCP.

At the party’s Autumn Conference in September 2019, Liberal Democrat members approved an amendment calling on the Government to end the crisis in SEND funding, launch a National SEND Strategy and toughen enforcement of the existing 20-week waiting time for an EHCP to be approved.

ViewPoint: Talk Up Your work or Get Left Behind.
January 28, 2020
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By Kathryn Crawford Saxer.   Kathryn Saxer coaches mid- to senior-level professionals on career management and development.

“Write like a girl,” I told my career coaching client.

Kathryn Crawford Saxer, jobs columnist for Seattle Times Explore

My client, a scientist with several years of postdoctoral research experience, was applying for a faculty position at a prestigious university. We were working through drafts of her cover letter. The first draft of her letter was good: well written, well organized, coherent and clear.

But there was a tone.

“Your letter reads very humble,” I told her as I marked up the document. “I think you have a lot of room to be more braggy. I expect you are competing against men who have no problem doing so.”

My editorial comment is backed up by a recent study published in The British Medical Journal that found that men “are much more likely than women to heap praise on their own research and emphasize its importance,” as the study authors wrote in a New York Times editorial in December.

The researchers analyzed the titles and abstracts of more than 6 million life-science articles. They found that in the most highly cited scientific journals, male-led scientific teams were up to 21% more likely than women-led teams publishing comparable studies to use positive adjectives like “novel,” “excellent” and “unique” to describe their results.

And words matter.

The researchers found that articles with a more positive spin in their titles and abstracts were linked to more citations, a critical component in hiring, promotion, pay and funding decisions. The researchers were studying science writing, but the findings are a useful analogy for emails, presentations and promotion docs in the business world.

“There’s a tentative tone to the letter,” I told my client. “Maybe a little diffident. You use phrases like ‘I am eager’ and ‘I am thrilled.’”

Instead, I told her that I wanted her to claim her place, rather than ask for it.

“You describe your research, but don’t say what the impact was. I bet you’re shying away from claiming impact because it feels braggy.”

“I thought I was bragging!” she said, and took another stab at the letter.

A couple of drafts later, her letter confidently outlines how she will contribute to the university’s success. She describes her research and how it intersects with the department’s research focus. She references her publications, calling out which she was lead author on, and stating matter-of-factly the number of citations to date.

The letter is still well written, well organized, coherent and clear, but without the “eager” and “thrilled” language that undermines her serious professionalism. She describes her research as “novel.”

“Nice work writing like a girl,” I told her.

ViewPoint: Why Careers Education Needs International Inspiration
January 15, 2020
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By Ruth Gilbert, group education director at Manor Property Group and an honorary fellow at UCL Institute of Education.

When creating something new for the UK, it makes sense to take a look at the wider world to get a better understanding of what’s already out there and what’s working internationally.

This approach of considering best practice is not rocket science by any means and, in fact, it potentially saves a huge amount of effort. Why start from scratch to come up with new ideas when there are tried-and-tested techniques/products that would potentially work (albeit with some adaptations) for your particular market and audience?

Careers education

Careers education is clearly something that we haven’t got quite right in this country. A number of reasons can be cited for this – not enough funding, accountability, lack of prominence in the national curriculum…the list goes on. But the fact remains that high-quality careers education is crucial if young people are to be given the best possible chance to successfully progress from school/college/university into great jobs.

We have seen some investment in careers education projects for primary schools and funding for virtual career hubs to coordinate training and support employer brokering services. But, culturally, the emphasis in the UK has been on public sector leadership of employer engagement.

Many countries around the world have taken a very different approach to careers education, with encouraging results. So, perhaps it is time to look further afield and take inspiration from the international community. 

Take Finland – a European country with comparable economic drivers and social context to the UK. Much greater resource is dedicated to careers education there, and the subject is a compulsory element of the curriculum. It comprises around 76 hours of scheduled “careers ed” activities in the students’ timetables during the equivalent of Years 7-9. In addition, there is an entitlement for individual and group guidance together with compulsory work experience periods. And for younger children in Finland (grades 1-6), careers guidance is embedded within the classroom.

Expert guidance

Crucially, students are also entitled to expert careers guidance at school one year after completing upper secondary level if they have not been enrolled in further education. For those young people starting vocational education and training programmes (VET) there is one compulsory ECVET module on the development of lifelong career management skills. Each student is entitled to a customised learning plan – supporting them to consider their post-education plans.

Finland and its neighbour Norway are also leading the way with physical careers guidance centres (Ohjaamo centres) – which are also found in Australia. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s international conference in June referenced this work, highlighting the benefit of these centres to promote active citizenship, inclusion and transition to employment. They are cross-sectoral, providing a range of outreach services to support young people, including: employment and youth services; career practitioners; social/health professionals; and a range of charities.

This model is similar to the vision of Manor Property Group, which is developing a network of careers hubs. The first of these Qdos Career Hubs is planned to serve East Yorkshire, where youth unemployment has been rising, major skills shortages are evident and apprenticeship take-up is very low.

And, as is evident from Finland’s experience, the establishment of one-stop guidance centres is having a positive impact, with respondents feeling they were better involved in decision making about their own lives. This is exactly what Manor expects to achieve with our project – benefiting the local, regional and national economy and skills market.

Industry involvement

Another key theme, which comes through strongly when looking at Finland’s successful implementation of careers guidance, is the involvement of industry. Privatisation of services is always a contentious point in the UK, but is a common feature of careers guidance services in other countries. Over the past 10 years in Finland, the role of the private sector has increased, introducing more varied and flexible services. These have included online careers information and self-assessment tools as well as national projects to support continuous learning.

And in Canada, there has been substantial commercial investment from industry into career development. It is widely accepted that that industry-led education in Canada is progressive – offering much best practice for the UK to take note of. An example of this is RBC, Canada’s largest bank, committing to investing CA$500 million (£288 million) over 10 years in the Future Launch programme to help young people succeed in the emergent labour market. 

We have seen employability online programmes from major banks and financial institutions in the UK but we don’t culturally promote industry engagement in leadership of pioneering public services. Via its network of Qdos Career Hubs, Manor is keen to demonstrate how smaller businesses in the UK can create a legacy for their communities, supporting growth of the economy and young people, hand in hand.

Crucially, careers guidance gives young people a broader view of the opportunities available to them. It also offers employers the chance to consider their future skills needs and engage with the very audience they need to support these needs. A win-win.

Learning lessons from abroad reflects the necessity of taking an international view on these issues. We are operating in a global digital economy and this means opening young people’s eyes to how industry is working – now and in the future, here and abroad.

ViewPoint: Utilities Demand More From Apprenticeship Levy
January 6, 2020
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CONTRIBUTOR: Nick Ellins, Chief Executive – Energy & Utility Skills

Image result for utilities sector

The utility sector led the way in implementing the government Apprenticeship reforms, was the first to secure a Trailblazer Standard and graduate an apprentice through the new system. They offer to act as a proven and credible ‘critical friend’ to an incoming government.

Now, Energy & Utility Skills, a skills and assurance organisation for the UK utilities sector, published a comprehensive review into the delivery and effectiveness of Apprenticeship reforms. The work forms one part of its workforce renewal and skills strategy to ensure that the gas, power, water and waste management industries has the human capital required to deliver environmental infrastructure and essential services to nearly 67 million UK consumers.

The employer-led review was independently written by Professor David Way CBE, a leading figure in UK skills and Apprenticeships. The report found the energy and utilities sector – which is of high strategic importance to government plans to boost UK productivity and will invest more than £100bn in the economy – has made the policy reforms deliver high quality workers but further adjustments are needed to make the apprentice system fit for purpose.

The ‘Test and Adjust’ report calls for six key actions:  

  1. Filling the funding gap

The predicted funding shortfall for Apprenticeships must be transparent. Any funding gap should be filled by a combination of increased public funding and lowering the payroll threshold to below £3m for employers who contribute to the Apprenticeship Levy. Public funding offers a proven healthy return for the UK economy

Linking Apprenticeships to the Industrial Strategy 

Success should be about more than the number of Apprenticeship starts, it should be linked to outputs and productivity. The sector calls for a change in approach to ensure critical skills delivery is incentivised, quality is increased and not undermined by funding cuts.

Sector training pot 

Unspent Apprenticeship Levy funds are returned to treasury. The sector askes that Levy funds are retained within the sector to create a flexible ‘sector training pot’ to be used for tackling skill challenges and enhancing productivity. Employers in the energy and utilities sector are currently losing up to £2.5million a month of unspent Levy

Employer leadership 

The employer-led approach must be extended to all parts of the Apprenticeship system. Employers know best when it comes to the skills and knowledge required in their businesses. This is tested at the end of the Apprenticeship programme by an Independent End Point Assessment organisation. Why then go back and check if 20% of their time was spent on ‘off the job’ training? Employers need to have more control over how their apprentices are trained.

UK wide approach 

Over half of the sector’s employers operate across the UK’s four nations, delivering services to around 67 million UK-wide customers. Every company in England must pay the Apprenticeship Levy based on their UK PAYE bill. However, it is only directly available to fund apprentices in England. In the other 3 nations it is passed back to their governments. This often leads to employers having to pay twice for Apprenticeship training. It is not uncommon for companies operating across the 4 nations to have cohorts of apprentices on two different Apprenticeship programmes.  The sector calls for a coherent UK-wide framework that works for employers and apprentices

From T-Levels to Apprenticeships 

The industry is positive about the introduction of T-Levels but calls for more transparency and detail on the pathways from T-Levels to Apprenticeships and employment. The sector is keen to see T-Levels and Apprenticeships working as one continuous process.

Nick Ellins, Chief Executive of Energy & Utility Skills, said: “The energy and utilities sector employs over half a million people, generates 5% of GDP and contributes £51m annually to the Apprenticeship Levy pot. They set the standard in delivering successfully against the policy reforms and from the start sought to positively help the government to ‘test and adjust’ its approach.

This report from Professor Way, sets out clearly for the incoming government, where to adjust the reforms to bring immediate benefits and policy success. Too much time is being spent focusing on the Apprenticeship Levy as an end in itself, what matters is the quality of the talent that emerges into the economy and society, and how effectively the system works for the employers who foot the bill.”

Report author, Professor David Way, CBE, said: “Employer-led reforms to the Apprenticeship programme are beginning to bear fruit, especially by improving quality. This will be vital for future productivity growth and for the expansion of the Apprenticeship programme.

The Apprenticeship Levy has not yet had the transformational impact on employer investment in skills training that Ministers were looking to achieve. However, employers are now familiar with the systems and are steadily increasing the proportion of their Levy payments that they are able to use.

By extending the employer-led approach to all parts of Apprenticeships and ensuring employers see the Levy arrangements as fair and transparent, there is every prospect that we will see the growth in high quality Apprenticeships that will drive the productivity increases needed for the UK to compete in the global economy.”

Nick Ellins concluded: “The Apprenticeship reforms have brought undeniable benefits to the employers in our sector, and they wish to accelerate the gains being made by identifying and embedding reforms that will work for the incoming government and for business. Their track record of turning theory into practice makes them a tried and tested partner for government. It is time to step back, draw breath, talk candidly, target the resources and efforts to maximum effect and use this insightful research to help Apprenticeship policy progress to support the needs of the whole UK economy”