Friday, 23 December 2011

Eight Out Of Ten Cats...

I first had this idea about a year ago. Now I'm beginning to see others saying similar things and, although I haven't quite got my head around exactly what I want to do, here's the gist of it. I see college students at various places where I work every day and must have about 100 at the moment that I'm teaching at some point or other through the week. (My remarks are a general summary of what I find overall and do not necessarily all relate to any one institution). Some students are bright, some have trouble understanding their timetable, never mind assignment instructions. Some arrive on time for their 9 o'clock session, most don't. Some actually do some useful work during the session. Most don't.

Now you're probably already shaking your fist at the screen or shouting at me something to the effect that this shows a good number have no respect for the college rules, me or that they should be disciplined, thrown off the course and that it's all my fault. If I were a better tutor or course manager then everything in the garden would be lovely...

I have, therefore, asked them for some honest reasons as to why they either arrive late and my colleagues for similarly honest reasons as to why the ones that struggle are on the course in the first place. I knew the answers already but it was good to get confirmation. All many students really want to do is stay on a course for as long as they can or until they get a job. They want to go to university next and that will allow a further extension before they really will have to start working full-time. Few have any real hope of getting a decent full-time job when they leave school so they come to college. Those that might have done well at job interviews are probably the ones who also got good grades at school and so could either go straight to university instead or are the few bright sparks who I've got, with grades that were just not quite good enough so they're doing A level equivalent courses at college and then hoping to go to university.

By far the majority didn't do very well at school, maybe scraped through a few GCSEs and now are scraping through another batch of subjects at college. Several at one place had wanted to do something other than what they're enrolled on but the department managers in that area had got their act together and insisted on decent GSCEs and references before taking students on. So the students tried a department where tutors were instructed to take almost anyone because the numbers enrolled had to meet some target. Not meeting the target would mean fewer teaching hours and so fewer tutors. Someone also said that the college has a pastoral role, care in the community and all that. If they didn't take them they'd be roaming the streets so they were doing the local community a service. Some students had some pretty dodgy behaviour history too and, if their parents weren't going to show them some good practice then that was the college's role too. So we finish up with a class comprising a few who genuinely want to study that subject and have the right attitude and a load that don't really and haven't.

Because their parents get quite considerable tax breaks or income support for them remaining in full-time education, and some do still get an Educational Maintenance Allowance or similar weekly payment for attending too, there is massive pressure at home for them to be a college student. Some I've spoken to would, in fact, be content doing some part-time work and gaining some experience in the real world, even tedious jobs, but their parents insist that they stay at college. So stay they do. They've worked out that it is almost impossible to remove them from a course unless they behave absolutely ridiculously badly and, although some can be a pain, they know how to play the game and don't cause trouble on the premises. They've also worked out that they don't need to attend many classes to pass the course. They just need to do a pile of assignments. There are a lot of assignments but no exams so, as long as they hand something in sometime before June that is good enough to get past the basic criteria then that's all that's needed and, remarkably sometimes, they do finally come in with what's required although quite where they've got it from is often a question not easily answered.

Of course, passing, say a level 2 course means that they can move on next year to a level 3 course. That lasts another two years so colleges have got them for three years at least. That's money in the bank for the college, for their parents and a qualification to boot that can probably then get them into one of the less concerned universities where they'll have another three years not having to worry about getting a job and support continuing to trickle into the home too.

Commands from on high about attendance targets and success rates pervade all that tutors do. If someone has them missing attendance ticks from the register then they get hauled before panels and get planted on some action plan form or another that is supposed to correct things. So now tutors don't bother. As long as they see them at some point in the day and know they're alive then they're there and their attendance figures look exemplary. They may not get the maintenance grants (as no-one will sign those unless they turn up) but there are rather fewer of those now and the sums are less significant too.

For success rates, with everyone staying the course and handing in bare pass material then job done, 100% thank you very much. Well, there's always one or two who do drop out, move home, get arrested or something so it's nearer 80-90% but that's OK. The college can publish reasonable figures and everyone's happy.

Except they're not. The bright sparks who want to study and learn more in lessons don't get a chance to when the others are around. Either there's too much noise, not enough pcs or the tutor is constantly having to ask some to stop playing games, turn off the phone, demand explanations of why they are they late etc. Some actually quite like it when the others are really late or don't turn up at all. For example, I can get on really well and move some of the students way forward and discuss progress properly with them. Not all my colleagues, understandably however, allow the others that flexibility and the good ones suffer as a result.

So the others are not so happy either. I may ignore the passenger students and basically let them play the game but they have a rough time with colleagues who don't. So those colleagues don't have the best of days when they're teaching that group either where many just reluctantly sit in the sessions waiting for break time.

All in all, this is a disaster. Something has to change and this is what I'd like to do. Sweep away the classrooms, the timetables and even some of the courses too. Enrol everyone on a new type of programme that provides the skills that employers demand nowadays, in fact have been demanding for years but we don't seem to do a great deal about it. In their first year they do the basics, Maths, English, communication skills and the like plus some other useful modules that may be pertinent to their general career direction. Then they move on to the specific modules related to what they want to achieve. More often than not these would be shaped by employers because they would be helping to fund the education and offering to take some of them on at the end. So, where this applied, the students would be learning what the employers needed them to learn as a priority.

This programme could be a variation of a foundation degree in the UK for many of the existing level 3 candidates currently doing BTEC National Diploma type programmes which seem to be the bedrock for so many Further Education institutions. Attendance ceases to be an issue because the vast majority of learning can take place on-line, at home or wherever. When they want to learn, where they want to learn at a pace they want to learn at. I would suggest that regular 'workshops' are arranged whereby the tutors do meet the students face-to-face and can assist them individually with their progress or specific queries. This is the Work Based learning model that I have seen used effectively at Middlesex University and could be adapted with a little imagination and effort.

Existing institutions could run this type of programme with rooms cleared of pcs and clutter, furnished as pleasant enviornments where tutors and students can chat as well as work, using laptops, tablets, wireless networks etc. as well as a few pcs or macs. Only those institutions that could prove that they can work in the community with local employers to deliver what was required, though, would get the business so I guess many might close. This opens the door to other types of organisation to offer them instead and I don't see any big problem with that, provided that they can set up the appropriate quality controls over assessment and employ the staff to run things.

That brings me to the other matter - that of quality. Once the ridiculous, and, honestly they are laughable, targets and benchmarks for Further Education are binned then we can start to see both honest assessment and students passing because they genuinely have done what they should have done and all the nonsense about attendance and shouting at students who don't turn up at 9am or can't concentrate at 10:15am for some reason virtually disappears. Those who want to learn and get on will do, some quickly, some not so quickly - it's up to them to a large extent. With some guidance they manage their own learning. The quality of such figures as are produced will also be sound as there should be fewer reasons to want to fiddle them. Local competing institutions might even decide to work together. Good grief, that would be different!

Lastly, students on this type of programme would be free to work as and when they wished. As well as providing some much-needed income for themselves and, I suppose, their parents, they could be learning so much more about what work is actually like and, who knows, even get that thing about getting to places on time, behaving responsibly and even getting certain tasks completed on time! Just like they are constantly being asked to do at a college but which few actually ever seem to manage to achieve willingly. Employment is the answer to a lot of things. Employers can sack them. Tutors can't. Employers can offer real incentives that they recognise. Tutors can't. Employers can offer a tangible, realistic prospect of a future. Tutors can't.

So I would like to ask anyone out there who thinks they could support a Universal Foundation Degree programme along these lines to get in touch and, especially, to see whether there are any commercial organisations who might represent potential financial backers at the outset as setting this up takes time and money. I have a few expert e-learning colleagues who are interested in joining me with possible designs for modules that could be validated by a university to deliver some of the foundation modules referred to. Naturally, there will be a mass of other modules required to meet a wide range of future progression needs but, to a large extent, these ought to be available through tweaking of existing course units, modules or whatever.

After briefly outlining the idea to a group of 40 or so students some time ago, at least half of them said that they would have preferred to study that way if they had had the choice. Of the rest, they were evenly divided between those who liked the discipline and organisation of college as it stood and wanted to remain in a school-like environment. The others said they didn't mind, provided that they weren't worse off and could still get a qualification (and I'm not sure they were paying that much attention to what I was saying!) So my guess is that about 8 out of 10 of eligible students would, in fact, go for it - if the funding or grants were there. There does exist funding for part-time Foundation Degree programmes through Finance England but that is related to family income so its not ideal but I suspect there are other sources that those in the know might be able to tap to make such a venture feasible.

As I said, it's time for a change, and hopefully one where I can help make a difference!

Thursday, 22 December 2011

£14 million for Analysis, Thematics and Networks, £14000 for an Intern

Surely some of us can get together and apply for some of this huge amount money that is floating around Government departments and The European Commission? This is in addition to the last lot mentioned in my post a couple of weeks ago. It would be easy to grumble about wasting our money but why not actually get some and do something useful with it before somebody else does? And, of course, include me in the deal somewhere!

Local Enterprise Partnership Capacity FundDepartment for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS)

The Fund now has a broad objective of supporting LEPs to address the issues that will best help them deliver local growth. A share of £3 million funding can be used to support a range of activities, including the following:
  • Analysis of existing economic data or intelligence to help LEPs prioritise the activities to engage in.
  • Analysis of new or emerging industries or clusters.
  • Analysis of potential barriers and collection of new economic data. This may include analysis of data that already exists on a local authority level, on an LEP level.
  • Training for board members.
  • Facilitating SME engagement with the partnership.
  • Identifying economic benefits of working between LEPs on infrastructure issues or sectoral priorities.
ACTION! 2012 (UK)Working Title FilmsA full-time intern placement and bursary award to give individuals vital experience and exposure through working in an international production company. The bursary award is £14,000. 

Applicants should be eligible to work within the UK and have some experience in the film development and production sector and a proven commitment to a career in the industry. The internship will take place on a full-time basis for one year. Interviews will be held in London during in the spring. The deadline for receipt of applications is 17 February 2012 at 5pm.

EUROPE FOR CITIZENS 2007-2013The European CommissionActive Citizens for Europe
Town twinning citizens' meetings - indicative budget of €6.1 million.

Networks of twinned towns - indicative budget of €4.5 million

Citizens' projects - indicative budget of €1.3 million

Support measures - indicative budget of €805,000.

Active Civil Society in Europe - support for projects initiated by civil society organisations - indicative budget of €2.8 million.

Active European Remembrance - indicative budget of €2.4 million.

URBACT IIThe European CommissionThematic coverage for this Call includes a series of topics related to the Europe 2020 strategy for innovative, sustainable and inclusive cities. Project proposals must select from one of the following topics:

Innovative cities1. Promoting innovation and the knowledge economy.
2. Promoting social innovation.
3. Promoting employment and supporting labour mobility.
4. Promoting entrepreneurship.

Sustainable cities1. Developing low carbon and energy-efficient urban economies.
2. Enhancing urban planning performance and an efficient public administration.

Inclusive cities1. Promoting the active inclusion of specific groups.
2. Fostering regeneration of deprived neighbourhoods and combating poverty.

The total eligible budget for a Thematic Network is €800,000.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Money, money everywhere (if you can cope with the paperwork!)

New Energy Efficiency Funding
The Department of Energy and Climate ChangeUp to £50,000 is available for each successful community to be used to help assess the potential for energy efficiency and local renewable energy generation in their locality. Organisations including parish councils, voluntary associations, development trusts and faith groups are all eligible to apply.

Fundamental Rights and Citizenship
EU Charter of Fundamental RightsThe available funding consists of an indicative amount of €20.97 million. Grant applications must be for a minimum of €75,000, for up to 80% of overall eligible project costs for one or more of these topics:
  • Informing on where the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights applies and where to turn to if fundamental rights are violated (CFR).
  • Promoting the Rights of the Child (RoC).
  • Combating racism, xenophobia and antisemitism (RXAS).
  • Fighting Homophobia: Enhanced/improved understanding and tolerance (HMPB).
  • Training and networking between legal professions and legal practitioners (TRAI)
  • Citizenship
  • Participation in the democratic life of the Union (DEMO).
  • Raise awareness about Union citizenship and the rights attached to it and identify obstacles to their effective exercise (CITI).
  • Raise awareness and improve knowledge about the EU rules on free movement, in particular Directive 2004/38/EC (FREE).
  • Facilitate sharing of knowledge and exchange of best practices on acquisition and loss of Union citizenship (BPoC).
  • Address the gender imbalance in participation in the European Parliament elections (GEND).
  • Data protection and privacy rights
  • Training and awareness raising on data protection including general information on the fundamental right to the protection of personal data and awareness-raising campaigns.
  • Improving practical cooperation between Data Protection Authorities.
  • Reinforcing children's privacy in the online environment.
  • Identifying and tackling the challenges posed by new technologies for the fundamental right to data protection.
  • Technological and organisational means to improve data protection compliance.
and, for supporting the functioning of non-profit organisations in this field, €1.6 million is available and grants can for up to 80% of the total eligible cost of the Forecast Operating Budget, up to a maximum of €250,000.

Community Buying ChallengeDepartment for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) A £60,000 initiative has been launched by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and Co-operatives UK to promote community buying models. The competition is open to groups and organisations within the public, voluntary or business sectors. Awards will be made to support training, mentoring and seed funding for stand out projects, with a £15,000 prize available for an overall winner.

Daphne Programme (2007-2013)The European CommissionThe available funding consists of an indicative amount of €25.83 million. Applications for a minimum grant of €75,000, for up to 80% of overall eligible project costs, are invited.Projects under this Call should focus on the following priorities:
  • Rights of victims of violence.
  • Violence linked to harmful practices.
  • Children as victims and perpetrators of violence.
  • Perpetrator programmes and interventions.
  • Training programmes for professionals in contact with victims.
  • Empowerment work at grass-roots level.
  • Media violence, particularly violence linked to new technology and social networking tools.
Projects require a partnership of two organisations from two different Member States. Public or private organisations and institutions, such as NGOs, local authorities and university departments are eligible to apply.

Clore Award for Museum LearningThe Art Fund Prize & Clore Award for Museum LearningThe single award of £10,000 will be presented in June 2012. Entries are accepted from across the whole range of museum and gallery learning activities, including but not restricted to schools, colleges, or community settings. Projects and initiatives which were launched or mainly took place during the calendar years 2010 or 2011 are eligible

Europe for Citizens 2007-2013
The European Commission
  • Town twinning citizens' meetings, indicative budget of €6.1 million.
  • Networks of twinned towns; indicative budget of €4.5 million
  • Citizens' projects; indicative budget of €1.3 million
  • Support measures; indicative budget of €805,000.
  • Support for projects initiated by civil society organisations; indicative budget of €2.8 million.
  • Active European Remembrance; indicative budget of €2.4 million.

Film Networks Fund
Creative England Funding is available towards a range of activities including:

  • provision of editorial and technical support for emerging talent looking to produce work;
  • delivery of networking;
  • screening and industry speaker events and master classes; and
  • provision of peer-to-peer support, mentoring, training and advice.
The Film Networks Fund is a fixed call with £150,000 to award in the current round. Awards will range from £2,500 to £25,000. Applications can be made by legally constituted organisations operating in the English regions (outside Greater London); and legally constituted organisations operating outside the English regions that wish to develop and deliver activity in the English regions (outside Greater London).

Daphne Programme
The European Commission
supporting the functioning (operating costs) of non-profit organisations - such as voluntary associations, foundations and NGO's - pursuing activities which contribute to the objectives of the specific programme DAPHNE III.

A total budget of €3 million is available and grants can be for up to 80% of the total eligible cost of the Forecast Operating Budget, up to a maximum of €250,000 for the financial year 2012.