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Why colleges are the unsung heroes of our education system and should be celebrated.

Updated: 19.10.20

Why colleges are the unsung heroes of our education system and should be celebrated.

This week, it’s time to shine a light on colleges and the further education heroes who are making a difference to people’s lives day in, day out.

Colleges Week, from October 19th to 23rd, celebrates all of the brilliant things that FE colleges do to transform lives, support businesses and build communities.

The global Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on the way we are living, learning, teaching and working is like nothing we’ve seen before.

I can honestly say that having worked in the FE sector for 28 years, I’ve never been prouder of the role that colleges are playing through this crisis.

Nationally, colleges in England educate and train 2.2 million young people and adults. They educate more young people than state funded schools and more large employers train their staff via colleges than universities.

From manufacturing masks to helping provide food for the vulnerable, colleges up and down the country have been doing incredible things to support their students, staff and communities.

The Sheffield College is no exception, being one of three anchor education institutions in the city alongside both of the universities.

With around 1,300 staff, we teach and train more than 14,000 students a year and support 2,400 employers to get the right skills to prosper even in the most difficult of circumstances.  

Of those, around 900 employers are involved in 130 apprenticeship programmes and 1,500 provide work experience and related opportunities.

Education drives opportunities. The majority of our students are local and the city’s talent pool and employees of the future. 

Approximately 57% of our students live in a disadvantaged postcode area; 35% of our students are BAME and 22% declare a learning difficulty or disability.

Our students and staff have shown tremendous resilience, adaptability and resourcefulness throughout this pandemic. Our FE heroes include Zaigham Mohammedwho left school with no qualifications but has turned his life and career prospects around.

Zaigham worked his way up the qualification levels to achieve three distinction stars (D*D*D*) in a Level 3 Diploma in Mechanical Engineering, equivalent to top A Level grades.  He also passed GCSE English and maths at grade 4.

He has progressed onto a Degree in Mechanical Engineering at Sheffield Hallam University. He describes his success as going from zero to getting top marks. Even during lockdown, Zaigham says, his college tutors did a cracking job and provided great support.

Shahzeb Hashmi is another example of an inspirational student who was recently awarded the national Peter Roberts Collab Group Bursary – set up in memory of an inspirational Principal who worked tirelessly for the FE sector and recognition of it.

Shahzeb completed an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Level 2 qualification at the College, secured the highest grades in all progress and final exams, and is now progressing to the University of Sheffield to study law.

Meanwhile trailblazing apprentice Estelle Smith is making a major contribution to Gripple, a world leading manufacturer, and has won a prestigious award for her efforts along the way.

FE colleges are at the heart of a skills led recovery from the pandemic – they offer the education and training needed by young people, adult learners and employers to rebuild for a successful future.

Our staff at all levels, including leadership, management and frontline colleagues across all areas such as health and safety, communications, curriculum, customer service, estates, finance, human resources, IT, recruitment - have moved heaven and earth to adapt.

We have strived to make the College as safe as is practically possible to support a blended teaching and learning approach and helped learners access IT equipment as well as funding for free meals during the summer.

We are continuing to innovate, for example, by providing virtual work-related activity to students through a new online employability skills programme.

Our expansion of employer skills academies, with backing from businesses in key sectors such as construction and information technology, is continuing and we’ve launched an online mental health initiative with UniHeads.

Prioritising investment in further education colleges in the government’s next Spending Review is vital.

After a decade of austerity, which has hit the FE sector disproportionately hard, college leaders, including myself, are writing to the Chancellor to ask that the government prioritise two big issues - skills for new jobs and disadvantaged young people.

We support the Association of Colleges Comprehensive Spending Review submission, published in September 2020, and the key asks that include providing: 

  • FE colleges with the investment they need, enabling them to deliver so much more to support people, places and productivity including funding for growth sectors and retraining opportunities.
  • Immediate action to close the digital poverty divide, and a stronger support package for students leaving education.
  • A long-term further education strategy, with college business centres supporting employers through expert advice and delivery on skills.

With the right support, FE colleges are well positioned to help the economy, people, communities, and the country get back on its feet.

For more information on how you can show your appreciation for your #FEHeroes, and support Colleges Week 2020, please follow @SheffCol @AoC_Info #LoveOurColleges and #CollegesWeek.

About The Sheffield College 

  • The Sheffield College is a further education college that provides academic, vocational and professional qualifications to more than 14,000 young people and adults. Its mission is to transform your life through learning. The College offers a broad curriculum that includes apprenticeships, vocational diplomas, A Levels, access courses, and foundation and honours degrees, and has four main campuses: City, Hillsborough, Olive Grove and Peaks as well as two centres at Fir Vale and Eyre Street.
  • More than 14,000 students and apprentices studied with the College during the last academic year 2019/20. Of those learners, around 2,700 were apprentices. The College works with approximately 2,400 employers and its economic impact on Sheffield City Region annually is approximately £282.5 million. Source: EMSI Economic Impact Study 2019. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Linkedin.

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National lockdown update