IT Key Skills

Last week saw a very interesting discussion at the Curriculum Managers meeting about the place of IT within the curriculum and what particular skills employers want from young people. Within the group of colleagues who discussed this there was a divergence of views, which could summarised in these three positions. Position One, we should specifiy a specific qualification which everyone should seek to attain before they leave college. Position Two, young people know more about IT than we do and in the future we won't need to teach them IT. Position Three, the best way to teach IT, just like any key other skillm is to integrate it within the student's main programme of study.

In having this discussion, one of the many unknows which we discussed was 'what IT skills do employers want new entrants to the workforce to have, and did this vary from one employer group to another. I think it would be fair to say there was a divergence of views on this one, and we may need to wait until the Employers Survey is published before we get any kind of answer on this one.

If you are interested in contributing to this debate, please contact either Fina Jones, Peter Bolam or myself.



Learning from colleagues

Over the last few weeks colleagues have been giving seminars as part to the Cert Ed programme. I had the privilege of being invited into two of the seminars, and although on quite separate topics, key skills and community building, there was a common a theme which bound them together, that it, sharing best practice.

Certainly, the message underpinning the key skills presentation was the need to colleagues to work together, as best practice tended to suggest that key skills were best delivered in an integrated fashion. Subject tutors and key skills working together to ensure that our students saw the relevance and need for acquire those literacy and numeracy skills. We already do this highly effectively in some parts of the college and we need to look on how we can build this.

Indeed, building on what already works is an integral of community building. Hopefully, the 2007-08 academic year we see a focus on community building through a number of processes which will focus on developing notions of best practice, and how that can be shared, implemented and its impact then assessed. This will be both exciting and significant as it will give us opportunities to learn from one another.

I certainly learnt much from those colleagues who presented his or her Cert Ed seminars, and I thank them for that.


Themes for the coming year

At this time of year, themes are beginning to emerge which will inform our work in the coming year. It would seem there are three or four themes which will become more and more important as the year progresses, and these would appear to be as follows:

employer engagement - making sure we work with employers to ensure we are offering the courses and curriculum they want

maintaining and developing professional knowledge and expertise - all of us need to work hard to ensure we maintain our knowledge base, and we will need to ensure we visit both employers and UK colleges to do this.

literacy, numeracy and IT skills - this appears to underpin most of the difficulties students have in trying to be successful, we'll need to make sure we make more progress in developing our own teaching skills in all three of these areas.

This is an exciting agenda, and provides plenty of opportunity to do interesting and stimulating work, indeed work which will make a difference to individuals and the Island as a whole.

Solution Focus Working

At our staff meeting on Friday 27 April we used elements of an approach called SolutionCircle. Of the 31 staff who responded to the evaluation, 27 of you wanted to know more about the Solution Focus working.

There are a number of books which provide insight into Solutions Focus approach. The best starting point is Paul Z Jackson and Mark McKergow's The Solutions Focus : Making coaching and change simple ( the second edition was only published just before Christmas last year). The oskar model of coaching which is incorporated in the book, has been used in small research project on lecturer effectiveness.

Daniel Meier's book Team Coaching with the SolutionCircle is more designed for work with groups, and has a number of separate elements

Preparing the ground
Expectations and goals
Hot Topics
Future Perfect
Scaling dance
Personal Mission

Certainly, from my own personal experience the solutions focus approach and process has allowed me to focus on solutions, rather then getting too hung up on the 'black cloud' associated with problems.

We intended to do provide opportunities for the academic staff to be trained in the use of the OSKAR model of coaching as part of the College's CPD programme for next term. So watch out for more information.


Time for some 'heavy lifting'

This is term when we can really make a difference to people's lives. We should now have a clear picture on who is at risk at not completing or passing his or her course. If we can work out what will make a difference to chances of success, we may well indeed make a transformational difference to that person's future. If we can get them to pass the course, it might we provide the opportunity to gain a job they really want; if they get good grades it may well mean they become the first person in their family to go to university. From the data you've sent me there are 90 students who are at risk of not being successful, and I know you are going to do all that you can to give them every chance of success. Nevertheless, the ultimate responsibility for success or failure lies with the student.

I dont think I need to say much more about the importance of your work and the satisfaction you'll get from helping folk be successsful.


Time to focus on students

It's time we changed our focus to learners. Over the last few years we have spent lots of time working on peer observations and focussed on setting aims and objectives, developing lesson plans and schemes of work, questionning skills and many other activities. This work has been vitally important, however it is now time we focussed our attention on working with students to increase their capacity and capability to learn. Now of course, we have been doing much of this work already. However, it is clear from colleagues that whilst we need to ensure we do all that we can to help our students achieve, we need to do even more in ensuring that students accept full responsibility for their learning. If we are to do that, we need to ensure we give them the tools to become the most effective learners they, possibly can be. As such, I intend future staff meetings to focus on building learning power (not my phrase but Guy Claxton's), and look at techniques which helps students become better learners. There is some really exciting things to be done here. So watch this space for more information.

Employer Survey

During the spring term we surveyed employers who had employees enrolled with the college, and 62 employers responded. There are a number of key outcomes:
• 89 per cent of employers agree the College provides high quality learning opportunities
• 90 per cent would recommend the College to others

Since 2006 significant progress has been made on providing feedback to employers with 66 per cent agreeing sufficent feedback is being provided, compared to 57 per cent in 2006. Nevertheless further work is required on the provision of feedback to employers on their employee’s progress and the provision of information prior to enrolment.

Developing Supported Self-Improvement

One of the characteristics of Highlands College is a self-critical culture, which means we are constantly looking to improve. As a result of feedback from colleagues who underwent SSI last week a number of suggestions have been made to improve both process of SSI and the preparation for SSI, these include:

- Ensuring high quality course reviews and action plans
- Visiting English colleges to allow better self-assessment judgements
- Working with the reviewers to ensure a better shared understanding of the local context
- Working with the reviewers to allow more working together in the initial visits, with less emphasis on data gathering
- Continual reflection on how to improve teaching and learning
- But above all - make sure we reduce unnecessary stress, whilst at the same time keeping that edge which is necessary for colleagues to peform at their best

Any additional comments and thoughts would be welcomed


Supported self improvement - the next steps

In a previous post I commented on the excellent work in the faculties of Guidance and Support and Professional Studies. Nevertheless, there are always areas where further work is required to reach a consistent level of excellence across the college as whole . These include:

1 The need to continually monitor attendance and ensure the screen-based registers are accurate
2 The further development of the good work on course reviews and action planning
3 The incorporation of MIS data to improve target-setting for students
4 The demonstration of the impact of learner support on student achievement
5 The sharing of good practice across the college as a whole
6 The need to reflect on what it is like to be an adult learner here at Highlands

Much of what needs to be done has good foundations on which to build. In the next few weeks, I will be looking for opportunities for you to join me to help push forward the work of the College in these areas. Imagine the satisfaction you will get from this work as it impacts upon the student experience and helps transform lives.

Supported Self Improvement Results

Last week saw a team of UK further education professionals work with colleagues in the faculties of Guidance and Support and Professional Studies. The outcome of this collaboration are judgements about the College which everyone who was directly or indirectly involved, can be extremely proud of. Our colleagues found across the 2 faculties:

1 Much good teaching and learning
2 Generally good student achievement
3 High quality accommodation and resources
4 Effective partnerships
5 Highly valued and consistent support for students

Of course there are things which we could continue to improve, and I'll share those later in the week, in the mean time why don't reflect on the above and take time to savour a job well done.

Policy developments

In the last week there have been a number of discussions about the development of policies in the following areas.

Learning Support
Skills for Life

Christine Wilson is leading on the development of these policies, and in discussion with the Curriculum Managers a number of key questions have emerged, some of which are as follows:

How do we make 'key skills' more central to the full-time student's experience?
How can we extend learning support to part-time students in a cost-effective manner?
How do we address the development of students' ICT skills?

There are many other issues we need to resolve in order to build on our existing achievements. In the next few weeks these issues will be discussed at both faculty and course level, but if you have thoughts on the matters at hand please do not hesitate to contact either Christine or myself.



This is the first post in a new blog which is designed to stimulate debate around curriculum issues here at Highlands College.

Friday's staff meeting certainly provided some food for thought over the issue of outstanding teaching and learning. Many colleagues have already taken the time to respond to the moodle survey, and certain themes seem to be emerging.

1 Many colleagues would benefit from seeing some concrete examples of what an outstanding session looks like.

2 Other colleagues suggested we should spend more time visiting other colleges so we can get a better feel for what is happenening elsewhere.

3 We need to reflect on what this all means for the learner, and ensuring we focus on the learner's needs rather than teacher performance.

4 It's good to be trusted!!

I will be using these and other comments from Friday's session to help craft the next meeting of teaching colleagues.

Enjoy the opportunity and privilege of working with colleagues through peer observations

Dont forget to use the comments box