Now that half term is out of the way and results for 2016/17 have been finalised in the R14 submission it is time to look ahead to a future which promises much change in the qualification landscape with the introduction of T levels, much change in the mix of provision required with the Apprenticeship changes and march of higher education, much change in the delivery approaches with the increased importance of work experience and the employer perspective, and much change in the way providers are judged with the new measures of performance and changing emphasis of Ofsted and the common inspection framework.

As I have often said now (this time of year) is the time to do some strategic thinking and real curriculum planning before plugging numbers into a spreadsheet.  Time to think about developing and offer which addresses the challenges of 2018/19 and beyond in the light of current performance trends and labour market requirements, an offer which is “fit for the future” and built on solid foundations.

A good place to start is by asking some fundamental and wide ranging questions of your vocational offer, by curriculum area, and here’s a good set to kick off with:

  • What does the current offer look like – breadth, depth and progression routes?
  • How does it map against the Sainsbury routes and proposed T levels?
  • How competitive is the offer, what is your market share and how is this developing?
  • How efficient is the offer and do we have the critical mass to generate the returns required to deliver excellence?
  • How reflective is the offer of the local and regional skills needs, now and in the future?
  • Do we have the right balance of funding routes and delivery approaches to address the future skills needs?
  • How effective has the offer been over the last three years in terms of achievement trends, progression and destinations?

So, here’s the challenge! To do this effectively means bringing together a wide range of information from different sources, reviewing this information and balancing the many messages to arrive at a coherent set of conclusions and recommendations for the future direction of the offer.  How do you pull this together into a coherent whole?  One answer can be found in the “A3 thinking” approach used by Lean Practitioners.  It’s all about informed problem solving and decision making.

Working with a number of Colleges we have done just that.  Adopting the “A3 thinking” methodology, we have developed an approach to strategic planning which is unique, is getting a lot of interest and is timely.  For want of a better word we refer to the resultant documents as “Strategic Direction Templates”.  Built up by curriculum area these display the information to consider the above questions all in one document, on one sheet of A3.  By bringing all relevant elements together in this way these Strategic Direction Templates can form the base documents for a “fit for future” review of a College’s offer and approach.  Such a review should result in real change for 2018/19 and beyond, ensuring that the offer and delivery approaches will meet local and regional skills needs as well as the changing academic and technical landscape.

But whatever approach is adopted, whatever template used providers do need to do it and now is the time!  As well as being excellent CPD for Curriculum Managers such an approach will need to be adopted by Colleges who want to meet the following “outstanding” criteria for Leadership and Management:

“The range of provision offered is carefully considered and based on thorough understanding and analysis of a wide range of information, including on local and national economic and social contexts. Learning programmes are very well designed , including collaboration with employers. These learning programmes ensure that they enable learners to acquire knowledge, understanding and skills, including, where relevant, English, mathematics and information and communication technology skills, that prepare them well for future progression to further/higher education or sustained employment.”

Here’s to you journey to “outstanding”……..or to maintaining it if you are already there!

Bob Hill

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