Joy and knowledge

A Further Education

I’ve always known, as a teacher of English (and sometimes maths, ICT and study skills) that there was a whole world of FE I didn’t have any real involvement with- a world filled with industry expertise and students working towards employment. Being present at open days and enrolment events always gave me an insight into the start of that journey but what of it then? Having a role in CPD has certainly brought me closer to that world but no better insight is gained than when I’m in lessons, observing the learning and speaking to staff and students.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been lucky enough to gain an insight into the great learning experiences provided for students at The Sheffield College @sheffcol and what follows are my notes.

Developing Vocational Skills

In Hospitality, students were absorbed in a demonstration of the day’s cooking; making copious notes, asking questions and answering chef’s targeted questions. Once the cooking commenced, it was clear that students had developed a range of professional skills on their course so far; chopping, cleaning up and staying safe by placing mats under boards to prevent slipping all indicate these students are becoming work ready. The respect was clear between ‘chef’ and students as I witnessed appropriate levels of challenge accompanied by careful observation of their work and coaching questions to develop students’ independence and resourcefulness.

In Hairdressing, students were engaged in a demonstration about shampooing hair effectively with students asking questions to confirm their understanding. This class were a group of mature learners, all currently working in industry and this was used appropriately by the lecturer to enhance the session; drawing on their current experiences through questioning and making reference to her own experience too. Students’ future plans were incorporated through a discussion around expenditure considerations that would need to be made when setting up and running their own business (cost of disposable towels in comparison with washing and drying towels for instance). The demonstration was thorough, with clear explanations given for students to follow- students were also encouraged to film the demonstration so that they had something to reference later on. It was clear that the lecturer had built up positive rapport with students- a blend of good humour and professionalism.

Developing Industry Expertise

I stayed far longer than intended in an Animal Care session on ‘barrier nursing’ as the lecturer’s expertise and passion was inspiring to say the least. This new lecturer has brought extensive and recent industry knowledge and expertise with her, which prove invaluable in the classroom. Each of her students were curious; with questions being asked about the subject content and much more besides. These students have developed excellent collaborative working techniques; all of them drawing on one another to answer questions and support them during the initial activity. When one student asked how she would be able to become a veterinary nurse, the lecturer was able to outline each of the steps of this journey to make it transparent to students and with a heightened awareness of what’s required, these students are learning with purpose.

In an Electrical Engineering session, the students’ brains were prepared for learning with challenging English and maths warm-up activities- a scrabble conundrum and a ‘what’s the missing number in this sequence?’ task. All students were engaged in calculating the answers before the time was up and late learners were incorporated without disturbance or a break in activity. As the lesson began, students were continually challenged through skillful questioning, with appropriate thinking time provided. This lecturer masterfully embeds a great deal of up-to-date knowledge from industry; adding context to a textbook and syllabus that has some outdated information. He shares with students what they can expect to buy in wholesalers and discusses the merits of different amp sizes and their impact on the cost of a job. These students are being well-prepared for their future.

Developing Digital Skills

In a Sports session, students were challenged with a team competition that demanded they engaged with higher level thinking- ranking items, making comparisons and selecting the most important parts. I was then able to see how the class are making use of Google Classroom and Apps for learning- engaging with lesson resources, working on and submitting their assignments. The students cited a variety of advantages to this online learning tool:

  • Being able to use it on their phones to check deadlines and view slideshows on their way in / way home from College.
  • The structure used helps them to navigate materials easily.
  • The easy communication with their teachers is also of benefit.
  • Gone are the days when collaborating on a project together is a great challenge and they lose their work (memory stick) or it crumples in their bag (paper hand-ins).
  • The fact that all of their teachers now use the same space was cited as being of particular benefit.

In a Games Development session, it was clear how the lecturer’s professional and knowledgeable approach helped the students to make progress; instilling high standards of work. It was clear that this lecturer was helping students through their qualification but was also, and perhaps more importantly, preparing them for successful work lives by encouraging them to learn from one another’s ideas and designs in order to create and then iterate their own. OneNote is the online learning tool of choice in this classroom with notebooks being used to bring about collaboration and ideas sharing across campuses and classes, replicating how these students might work in industry; having to share ideas with other games designers beyond their immediate vicinity. The students were growing in confidence with its use and although they had the class spaces to work with other students, they also had personal pages that the lecturer had created for each of them. The notebooks were well-structured to be easy to navigate and students cited being able to log-in from home when they needed to.


Students share their favourite ‘board game rules’ in a class notebook

In a Photography session, students were working on their projects within Google Slides (shared via Google Classroom). Instead of a written assignment or a paper scrapbook, students were able to access a set of slides that held a clear structure for dropping their work into. The lecturer cited how she was now able to see where students were up to on projects prior to deadlines; enabling her to tailor her work with individuals accordingly. It has also helped with the admin side of assessment as she is able to more easily track submissions and troubleshoot potential concerns with learners before the deadline.


Students have workbook pages to match learning activities in class so that their assignment is completed a section at a time but they can also see the overview.


Feedback sheets are incorporated at the end of the slideshow so that the lecturer can add this once the completed workbook is submitted on Google Classroom.

Developing Learning Habits

In one English lesson, collaborative learning was being encouraged with seating arrangement and room layout. Students responded well to activities and were clearly accustomed to setting and reviewing targets and their learning. The lecturer transitioned well from getting ready for the lesson to – now the lesson has started- and had all of the students following. Praise was used throughout in order to build confidence and encourage contributions from everyone whilst nominated questions were used at times to target certain individuals and check understanding.

In a different English lesson, it was clear how building rapport over time has resulted in engaged learners- keen to learn English and progress into employment.

In another English lesson, the lecturer had clearly established routines for her students to encourage their engagement- through seating arrangements, starter activities and ILP completion. Praise, a warm smile and a positive demeanour built students’ confidence too.

I wished I could have stayed longer in an Apprentice Advantage course where the lecturer had built up strong rapport with students just 3 days into their course. The lecturer played a speech as students arrived that contained words to inspire confidence; a quality integral to the success of these students in particular. The starter activity used was fun, challenging, related to CV writing and resulted in a room full of engaged learners- all intent on getting all of the answers correct. The session was carefully planned- structured to enable students’ purposeful progress through exploring skills and qualities for writing their CVs whilst English skills were developed through spelling, writing and communicating effectively. This lecturer’s assertive approach to positive engagement, with warmth and good humour, accompanied by a coaching approach to support students through lateness and remembering the correct equipment is already helping them to develop the skills required for employment.

In a Biology session, a warm and safe environment had been created where all students felt comfortable to learn in their own way and contribute to the learning of their peers also. It was clear that good learning habits have already begun to be developed with students responding to questions with confidence and demonstrating curiosity in asking questions and making observations. The lecturer’s modelling and subsequent construction of activities lead to students grasping concepts as they were repeated in a variety of ways. It was really lovely to see the students teaching one another; offering support and encouragement as well as challenge so that everyone’s understanding was secure.

The future of Further Education?

The last few weeks have reminded me of the joyfully diverse nature of FE- a whole world of opportunities, expertise and people held under one roof (or several…). I am even more convinced now of the great value to be found in bringing our various skills and knowledge together to collaborate across disciplines and contexts in order to transform our students’ lives in every department and not just our own. Whilst industry expertise may be strong in one area, the development of successful learning habits may be stronger in another.

In my 9 years in FE, I have witnessed staff being precious with resources. I have seen one department unwilling to learn from another because their students were far too unlike their own. I have been on the receiving end of judgement and criticism when I shared challenges I was facing with a group of students. I have, of course, been a part of some incredibly successful collaborative projects and activity but I am left wondering what might drive us to work more supportively with one another? FE is certainly not helped by the fact that we are an inherently competitive sector- if we work with the college down the road to become better together then we’re at risk of losing our students to them. As more and more cuts are made to the sector, jobs change, time and money constraints wrap tighter around us, and it becomes increasingly difficult to see outside of our own bubbles.

I’ve always set my sights sky-high but I have in my mind, a world where our bubbles collide, burst and instead of sending us crashing to the ground, free us to work as we wish- connecting across disciplines and making the most of the variety of skills under one roof (or several…). As education professionals, we can never be all things to all people but combined, that could be a possibility. I’m thinking of a curriculum enhanced by the professional standards to be found in Hospitality, the approaches to incorporating industry expertise held in Engineering and the learning habits to be found in the Sciences. By learning from one another and working together, I believe we really could have the best of all worlds right under one roof (or several…). Now to contemplate how such a world can be achieved whilst still anchored to this one…

My writing commitment: I’m learning to honour my thoughts. I’m learning that my words can be shared before I’ve connected all the dots or learned everything there is to know. My writing can be a snapshot of a single moment in continually-evolving time.

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