Further Education strategy launched

Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry MLA has launched the new Further Education Strategy for Northern Ireland.

The new strategy for further education in Northern Ireland was recently launched by Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry MLA. ‘Further Education Means Success’ aims to build on the achievements of the further education sector over the past decade and is the result of a wide ranging review of the further education sector in Northern Ireland.

The vision of the strategy is to ensure that further education colleges are recognised locally, nationally and internationally for high quality and economically relevant education and training provision. Colleges, the strategy recognises, also have an important responsibility to help fight poverty and support social inclusion by providing those with low or no qualifications and those with barriers to learning, with the skills and qualifications they need to find employment.

Theme one: Economic development

The strategy has nine themes, the first of which is focused on economic development. This theme recognises that colleges have a crucial role working with employers and other key stakeholders to ensure that students receive the necessary qualifications to rebalance and rebuild Northern Ireland’s economy.

Among this themes other policy commitments are the commitments for colleges to further develop their provision at level 3 (‘A’ level equivalent) and above, operate in flexible ways to support indigenous companies to up-skill the existing workforce, support employers and become centers of specialism and expertise in specific sectors.

Theme two: Social inclusion

The second theme of the strategy is focused on social inclusion. The strategy recognises that colleges’ distinctive contribution to social inclusion will be to provide learners with the knowledge, skills and qualifications required to find or progress in a job or avail of the benefits of economic participation.

Similarly, this theme also makes a commitment to ensure that colleges raise the level of literacy, numeracy and ICT competence in Northern Ireland by adopting new qualifications being developed through the Essential Skills strategy and the reviews of GCSEs in English and mathematics in Northern Ireland.

Theme three: Delivery

The strategy’s third theme is focused on curriculum delivery. Within this theme, the strategy makes the commitment to use international best practice in the use of technology enhanced learning to support and improve the teaching and learning on offer in colleges and offer the development of employability skills, through high quality and relevant work placements.

Theme four: Excellence

The fourth theme of the strategy is focused on excellence and makes the commitment to embed high quality teaching through a new teacher education framework, ensure industrial knowledge by giving college staff the opportunity to undertake relevant industrial placements, review the inspection scheme to ensure quality and improve performance by analysing approaches to receiving and analysing feedback from learners and employers.

Theme five: Sectoral efficiency

The fifth theme focuses on college partnerships and ensuring sectoral efficiency through collaborative working, sectoral effectiveness by sharing best practice, developing a mechanism to stimulate, manage and oversee collaboration and sharing of best practice between colleges.

This theme also wants to ensure that colleges work in partnership with a range of other organisations in the private and public sector to improve their offerings to both individuals and employers.

Theme six: Governance

The sixth theme of the strategy is all about the governance of further education in Northern Ireland. The strategy makes the commitment to ensure that colleges and departments work together to maximise the benefits to colleges’ and their customers of colleges’ non departmental public body status.

Theme seven: Funding and sustainability

The seventh theme is concerned with the funding model and the sustainability of colleges. The strategy makes a commitment to, in partnership with the colleges, review the funding model to ensure that it supports and incentivises colleges to deliver this strategy, that it supports a sustainable further education sector and that it aligns with the funding models that will be developed for other departmental programmes, in particular apprenticeships and youth training.

Theme eight: International dimension

The eight theme of the strategy is concerned with the international dimension of Northern Ireland’s further education sector and makes a commitment to enhance the learner experience, the professional development and industrial knowledge of their staff through placements and exchanges with similar institutions in other countries.

The colleges will also be tasked with building on the excellent partnerships that have been created across the world to share best practice. In addition, the department will also explore commercial opportunities to deliver more services in the international market.

Theme nine: Promotion

The final theme of the strategy is focused on the promotion of further education and the strategy makes a commitment to ensure that Colleges Northern Ireland, individual colleges and the department work together to demonstrate the distinctive role of the further education sector in the wider education system. The strategy also wants to promote the benefits and status of professional and technical qualifications on offer.

Speaking about the strategy, Minister Farry explained that that it will help colleges fulfil their important dual role of helping to develop a strong and vibrant economy and supporting social inclusion.

“The strategy consists of 21 policy commitments across nine themes that will establish a world class system of further education. It will enable further education to be recognised as an equal and valued pillar of the education system,” he says.

“My top priority as Minister for Employment and Learning has been to transform our professional and technical education and training system, in order to provide the most effective support for the growth of our economy, and to provide learning pathways that enable local people to reach their full potential. The new further education strategy complements the pioneering work that my department is conducting regarding the new systems of apprenticeships and youth training.”

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