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The further education and skills sector needs to take control of its own destiny if it is to capitalise on the fundamental changes facing the sector, according to a new collection of essays published today by the RSA in collaboration with the Further Education Trust for Leadership (FETL).

The publication, entitled ‘Possibility Thinking’, offers a provocation to the sector in this new era of devolved skills policy, college mergers and rapid apprenticeship growth. Successive waves of change in further education and skills have stopped the sector from driving its own self-improvement, even though it has developed its adaptability. The report calls for greater self-belief; assertive and creative leadership; and a new optimistic outlook to imagine new possibilities for the sector and its role within communities. 

Commenting on the report, RSA Director of Creative Learning and Development, Julian Astle said:

“The FE and skills sector has long had to show resilience and adaptiveness to successive waves of change, but the result is a system that’s often confusing to policy makers, employers and the public.    The sector needs to redefine itself as a dynamic, entrepreneurial, innovative force for regional development, learner engagement and civic pride.  We aren’t presenting a blueprint here, but a series of provocations to the sector to take up the reins for change.”

Dame Ruth Silver, President of the Further Education Trust for Learning said:

“I want to see further education firmly on the front foot, not only prepared to change, as we have always been, but driving that change forward. Localism, skills devolution, technology - even the area review process, for all its faults - are opportunities to develop this agenda. The collection highlights the need for further education and skills to be bold and daring, self-confident and collaborative; to act as agitators for change rather than its frequently anguished object.”

‘Possibility Thinking’ focuses on three areas of change that will enhance the FE and skills sector’s potential to develop the creative capacities of learners and their communities:

1. The removal of policy barriers to innovation at institutional, regional and system levels.

Devolution deals open the possibility for local areas to test out different models, but lingering centralising tendencies in government holds them back. The apprenticeship levy is an example of how a mechanism with the potential to support employer and provider innovation in delivering outcomes for learners and localities, will likely be undermined by the need to meet the arbitrary national target of 3m apprenticeship starts.

2. Greater appreciation of the sector's connection to and integration with place.

Connection with place has the potential to liberate the creative potential of localities through regeneration, training for meaningful work and partnerships for local economic growth. Local skills systems need to develop as anchor institutions connecting communities to place. In so doing it will be helping to heal some of the social divides that have become more apparent and divisive in recent times.

3. Increased support for a cadre of creative leaders who see their role as leaders of communities as well as institutions.

Support for creative leaders can drive a new sectoral self-concept and public understanding built on innovation, in particular in pedagogy and partnership working. This renewed emphasis on leadership should be truly systematised, with the development of tutors’ own capacities for innovation at its heart.

Each of the 8 essays in ‘Possibility Thinking’ responds to a different ‘what if’ question, with authors responding with deliberate idealism about the future possibilities.  The authors have focused on what the sector can do for itself, mindful of the current policy context, and identified ways that policy might enable, rather than constrain, sectoral innovation and public value. 


Notes to editors

1. 'Possibility Thinking' is available for download. 

2. The authors featured in Possibility Thinking are:

Philippa Cordingley is the Chief Executive of the Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education (CUREE) and an internationally acknowledged expert in using evidence to develop education policy and practice.

Paul Crisp is the Managing Director of CUREE and its Chief Information Officer (CIO). He is Teaching and Leadership Adviser (for the West Midlands) and a National Leader of Governance (NLG) for the National College of Teaching and Leadership.  Before joining CUREE he was vice-principal of a general further education (FE) college, a lecturer and consultant in education leadership and management and a local authority policy officer.

Pauline Tambling is CEO of Creative and Cultural Skills.  Previously she worked in several senior roles at Arts Council England, where she set up the £130m Creative Partnerships programme to connect schools with creative practitioners. Pauline was awarded a CBE in the 2014 Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to education and training in the cultural sector.

Bill Lucas is Professor of Learning at the University of Winchester and Director of the Centre for Real-World Learning, which he founded with Guy Claxton in 2008. With Guy Claxton he is the creator of one of the biggest teacher researcher groups in the world:  the Expansive Education Network.

Rowan Conway is the Director of Development at the RSA, ensuring that the RSA is undertaking rigorous and influential research and innovation projects.  She has over 15 years’ experience in research and engagement with communities, businesses and government bodies, including designing and overseeing community engagement for London 2012.

Oliver Broadbent is Director at Think Up where he is responsible for the development of new educational tools and events designed to support learning in construction and STEM subjects in the school, FE and higher education (HE) sectors.

Sir Michael Barber is Pearson’s Chief Education Advisor. Previously he was Head of McKinsey’s global education practice and served the UK government as Head of the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit (2001-2005) and as Chief Adviser to the Secretary of State for Education on School Standards (from 1997-2001).

Anthony Painter is Director of the RSA’s Action and Research Centre. In his work on policy development, he focuses on a range of policy issues including the impact of new technology on the economy and society, reform to welfare and learning and skills, and reform to public services and a range of public institutions. Anthony is Vice-Chair of Hackney Community College.

Charlotte Alldritt is Director of Public Services and Communities at the RSA.  Her key interest is in accountability in public services and she directs the Open Public Service Network (OPSN).  Previously, Charlotte ran the RSA City Growth Commission, an influential inquiry into how city-regions can drive UK growth.

Paul Little is Principal and Chief Executive of City of Glasgow College and has led several other colleges in Scotland and Northern Ireland.  Internationally he has worked with the South African and Lithuanian governments and has represented the UK at the 15th Commonwealth Ministers Summit and at the US Community Colleges Convention.

3. For more information contact RSA Head of Media and Communications Paul Duffy on 020 7451 6893 or 07799 737 970


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