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Preston College
Chris Wood - Vice Principal - Excellence and Learning

Chris Wood
Vice Principal - Excellence and Learning

Chris has been Vice Principal – Excellence and Learning at Preston’s College since 2011. With a career spanning 20 years in further education, Chris has played a key role in bringing a new approach to teaching and learning at Preston’s College via the introduction of project-based learning and the embedding of enterprising values across the curriculum. He is also playing a key role in the introduction of new qualifications such as the City and Guilds TechBac which Preston’s College is offering from next year.

What is wrong with the British education system?

Guest Post - Monday, 1st December, 2014

Well, according to many stakeholders, plenty! Employers say we are not able to give them what they want. Politicians continue to argue over the way to close the ‘skills gap’ that is referenced in every education sound bite and most recently, even parents have joined in and said that they do not feel that education is preparing their sons or daughters for the world of work.

There is of course one key stakeholder not mentioned here, the learner. For too long have we heard about Colleges where ‘learners are at the heart’ or of ‘learner centred approaches’ that are espoused to the world of Ofsted inspections. I believe the time has come to ‘get real’. Our only ambition in the Further Education sector must be ‘to make our learners the most employable’.

Over the past month, as Vice Principal at Preston’s College (you’ve guessed it, in Preston), I have been fortunate to be involved in several fantastic events in delivering a presentation to the City & Guilds TechBac north west event; exhibiting at the truly inspirational Skills Show and, most recently being part of a C&G panel at The AoC Conference. My view of the need for corrective action on behalf of learners could not possibly be stronger. On more than one of these occasions I have referred to a simple 4, 10, 13 Model that I have been studying for some years now. For those of you who have not heard this, it is a dynamic model that is quite simply, fascinating. The numbers in question are, quite simply, the ages of my children, ever changing, ever challenging and above all, ever learning. I have a four year old who uses an iPad to find a a recipe in the kitchen. I have a 10 year old inspired by Ms Berry and Mr Hollywood to cook it and I have a 13 year old will take the recipe and break it down into its nutritional values. With this level and style of practical, skills-based learning, why on earth do we think we will be able to ‘teach’ this generation at 16, as we have taught their predecessors? They are truly ‘learners’ and moreover, ‘consumers’ of knowledge and ‘developers’ of their own skills.

Over the past 3 years we, at Preston’s College, have become very serious about making our learners ‘the most employable’. We have decided that a skills focus, and not a qualification focus, is the only way to ‘bridge the gap’ of education to employment. We are developing true employer engagement to set ‘live briefs’ for a curriculum that is now delivered though Project Based Learning. It is the skills deficiency that employers crave the answer to, not another 4 A* qualifications. The real measure has to be the ability of each and every learner to develop true technical vocational skills for employment which, at the end of a period, will also deliver a job opportunity, a career enhancement and, oh yes, a qualification certificate.

Where did it all go wrong? Well, if we mean ‘when’ then the answer is long gone! If we truly mean ‘where’, well then the answer is very much, right across the UK. Our over emphasis on the qualification factory, standardised output of learners with homogenous exam-skill sets has meant that the best in in system, are those who can stay quiet in a room on their own and are able to write the fastest! To some extent this is a very British issue. It remains a fact that it is often more difficult to gain admission to a Technische Universität (Technical Vocational University) in Germany than an academic study institution. The result is a continuous output of technically-sound young Germans with a skills-based outcome that is valued, fosters innovation and drives a skills-rich economy.

So where does this leave us? Playing catch-up I have no doubt. The time for change is here, the obsession with exam-factory measures of institutional success must be replaced with a recognition of a multi-curricular approach to skills development. Awarding bodies, politicians, College Senior Leaders, Parents, employers and above all, learners, each have a part to play. Imagine a world where learners deliver projects which develop their skills and learning is therefore ‘real’. It may be as simple to give an example of the need to no longer deliver any vocational technical teaching in the isolation of a classroom or workshop. I continually find difficulty in construction departments across the land where all disciplines are taught separately but on the building site, collaborative and complementary blended approaches are what delivers the house, the office block, the bridge or even that shiny new College building to time and within budget!

Time for change we all say! Well I certainly add my voice to that. At Preston’s College our ambition is to ‘Reinvent Education’ in the Further Education sector. What I am finding is that there are more and more willing to sign up to the ‘most employable’ revolution.


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