Tim Strickland is CEO of FE Sussex, the consortium of post-16 colleges in Sussex. He has also acted as project manager for the Plumpton College ‘Technology in Learning in Sussex (TILIS)’ project. TILIS has two strands: one to support leaders and governors with strategic planning, and the other to support teachers to keep up-to-date with, and make effective use of, technology in the classroom. The strategic planning toolkit has been made available under our ‘early release of resources’ scheme and can be accessed here.
How did you approach the development of these two different resources?
It has been easier to approach the strategic side of things than the teaching and learning side of things. Once you get into the swing of envisaging the changes that are coming and assessing your situation, it’s a return to the familiar territory of leaders and governors planning and visioning the future. The only difference is that this is about technology resources as opposed to other resources. On the teaching and learning side, however, we needed to involve many more people because we had to cover more ground to find out what people were doing and what was working well and move forward from there. It was helpful to us that we were simultaneously looking at GCSE delivery and were able to tap into some existing methods and thought processes.
Did the two strands inform each other during the action research stage?
No, not really, because you’re looking at two different things. From a leadership and governance perspective, you’re looking at curriculum planning and hours and the financial implications of moving some learning online: how much will be saved, how much can we invest in additional learning resources, what is the lifespan of those resources, what is the return on investment? This is the mathematics of strategic planning. But if you’re a teacher in the classroom and you’re moving a percentage of learning online, the focus is on how you are going to do that in a way that enhances the learning experience for students and also improves learning outcomes. It requires a more multi-dimensional approach.
How does the toolkit for teachers work?
It starts in the same way as the strategic planning toolkit in that there is a self-assessment process linked to an action plan. The teacher is asked a series of questions regarding their teaching practice and use of learning technologies. It’s a fairly simple format of the yes/no variety, but the answers build to an action plan that suggests ways to move their practice forward. It may, for example, direct them to a humourous video that puts them in a questioning or curious mindset. This can be followed by practical suggestions for developing their knowledge, skills and confidence, such as video clips by teachers who are already successfully applying various technologies to the curriculum. We are trying hard to get people away from the idea that technology is about PowerPoint! Having said that, however, technology isn’t the panacea to good teaching and learning. I recently observed a class as a part-time inspector. There was no technology—just a whiteboard—and it was a brilliant revision session. You have to look beyond technology per se. It’s about the circumstances and the context. If you can get it across without technology, that’s great; but, equally, technology can substantially enhance the learning experience and that’s what we need people to understand.
Was there anything you didn’t anticipate in developing the two toolkits?
The strategic planning toolkit turned into a much more comprehensive tool than we had first thought. We went much more deeply into curriculum planning than I ever anticipated. If you say, OK, 10% of my learning is going to be online—and it’s important to acknowledge that that isn’t what FELTAG says but it is an aspiration—what does that mean in terms of curriculum planning: What do I do now? How do I do it? How much money do I need? What is the lifespan of what I’m doing? What’s next? So, it just snowballed and we kept thinking of new calculations.
In the case of the teaching and learning toolkit, we became aware of the existence of some very good practice but that it’s in isolated pockets and isn’t uniform across colleges and training providers. We realised that you have to wake people up to what’s happening around them. While it shouldn’t be the case, and isn’t always the case, it also needs to be acknowledged that the age demographic has implications for what we’re trying to achieve.
How does your partnership identify good practice in teaching and learning?
At FE Sussex, we coordinate the Quality Improvement Group (QIG) for Sussex colleges. This group meets about every six weeks to exchange good practice, follow developments and discuss Ofsted expectations. We make sure we’re all aware of what’s happening so that we can learn from each other.
We also always call for examples of good practice to be presented to peer groups who meet regularly each term culminating in a big presentation session in late June. The prelude to that is contacting all the colleges and asking what they’re particularly proud of and would want to showcase. Last year, a college wanted to showcase a maths lesson using a tablet and no conventional resources whatsoever. A’ Level results at the college had improved but it also revealed another aspect of the move to learning technology—it didn’t necessarily require rigid student attendance for learning to take place. This requires a culture shift that many organisations are still getting to grips with; but it’s coming, it’s going to take time, and it’s going to take the time of staff—and that’s always at a premium.
To promote the use of learning technology in teaching and learning, I introduced a teaching award in the FE Sussex consortium Spring Awards for the first time. This was an attempt to flush out good practice and bring it to our attention. It wasn’t as successful as we’d hoped but we did find practices that otherwise would have been missed.
How would you sum up the effectiveness of the Learning Futures programme so far?
It has worked for us. The support from Project Champions and the Learning Futures team has been important. The reporting methodology has been vigourous but not onerous in that it’s driven the projects forward without straightjacketing them. The processes they’ve put in place have acknowledged that the programme is additional to our day jobs and have helped us to balance those two priorities.
The Learning Futures programme has also been very helpful in concentrating our thoughts on the future and sustaining the progress we have made during the past year. Participation in Learning Futures has enabled us to set down a clear strategy of support and assistance and this will continue beyond the project funding period.