The Future of Further Education – Bishop Tim in conversation with Dr Rob Rees
In early September, students and staff returned to 294 Further Education and Sixth Form Colleges across the country, following six months of online learning and assessment during the coronavirus pandemic. This disruption has significantly affected those young people studying for vocational and technical qualifications, particularly apprentices, many of whom experienced furlough and redundancy. The high number of disadvantaged young learners in FE has led to many being disproportionately impacted by a loss of teaching and training, due to a lack of access to digital technology and media, and inadequate learning space at home.
Bishop Tim spoke with Dr Robert Rees, Vice-Principal at City College, Southampton, about the start of the new College term, the challenges facing the Further Education sector caused by the pandemic, the role FE has in local communities, the rebuilding of society post-Covid, and how his faith influences his work. As Vice-Principal at the general FE City College, Rob is responsible for Curriculum Quality and Student Support Services. He is also an Ordinand in Training at the Winchester School of Mission.
Rob described the role Further Education institutions have in supporting their local communities and economies, and in progressing the country through the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Artificial Intelligence): “FE provides vocational, occupational and educational training…it is key to us taking hold of the fourth industrial revolution… it is the best sector to deliver this and has always been at the forefront of training.”
Bishop Tim and Rob discussed why profession and Higher Education are prioritised over vocation and Further Education, and why FE is often misunderstood across society and the media. Rob commented: “FE is often defined by what it isn’t rather than what it is…it is still a relatively new sector by comparison with schools and universities…it is prone to changes by different Government administrations…so it has never had time to embed what is done brilliantly.”
Bishop Tim commented: “We sometimes forget that FE helps people either to retrain or continue with their education so that they can make a contribution to lots of things that we take for granted…so public recognition would be one action that would value FE and help people make sense of its contribution to the local community and more widely.”
Rob explained how Colleges support the key needs of local employers, industry and university partners, and have made a significant contribution to how the country is coping with the crises of Covid-19 and environmental degradation: “Further Education has always played a part in retraining, upskilling and preparing younger people and adults for the new world of work.”
Bishop Tim invited Rob to reflect on the difference his faith makes to his work in Further Education. Rob responded by saying: “As Christians, we are called to live out the example and witness of Jesus Christ where we are…in the Winchester Diocese we are called to be agents of social transformation, and where better to live out that aspect of our faith than in further education…I always think about the transformation FE can have on an individual…and societal transformation. That is at the heart of the gospel and at the heart of Further Education.”
Bishop Tim admitted that the Church of England currently does not sponsor a single FE institution and asked Rob for his perspective on the relationship of the Church of England with the FE sector: “The Church of England is going to produce a vision for Further Education; what should the Church’s relationship with FE be and what are you hoping to see more of?”
Rob said: “I am hoping to see a formalised recognition of what a partnership between the Christian church and the Further Education sector can do for the communities that they serve.”
Locally, Rob is delighted with the growing relationship and mutual hospitality City College has with the Parish Church of St Mary’s, Southampton, demonstrating the significance of the gospel and Jesus for everyone: “At the foundation of our faith, the Bible clearly tells us we are all made in God’s image…when we look at the society we seek to build and develop; nobody should be left behind.”
The Bishop of Winchester, Tim Dakin, is the lead bishop for Further and Higher Education, representing this Education and Skills portfolio in the House of Lords with the Church of England Education Office.
City College, Southampton, is a general FE College providing a range of academic, vocational and technical qualification training to almost 3,000 students, including adult learners, apprentices, young learners and school students.
In the Diocese of Winchester, there are 13 Further Education and Sixth Form Colleges providing education and training to over 30,000 students in the Hampshire and East Dorset region.