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Finding time to focus on what matters most

18 January 2018

Mergers, devolution of the adult education budget, Ofsted inspections, Post-16 Skills Plan and T Levels, apprenticeship reforms, GCSE reforms, English and maths condition of funding, Prevent agenda… Does the list sound familiar? These are just some of the topics that I regularly discuss with member colleges in London. Keeping up with all these changes commands our attention – and rightly so if we want to influence the direction that the sector is taking – but comes with a risk of losing focus on supporting and enhancing what matters the most: the teaching, learning and assessment of college students. This is why we are continuing to lead a Professional Exchange in London this academic year, commissioned and funded by the Education and Training Foundation. The aim of the Professional Exchange is to provide the space and time for teaching staff in further education to come together to reflect on their professional practice, share ideas and develop new approaches with a view to enhancing the teaching, learning and assessment of their students. Last year, 40 teaching staff members from colleges and other providers across the Capital worked together in peer groups on topics of mutual interest. These included exploring approaches to stretch and challenge, testing whether the development of a growth mindset with GCSE English students can help improve motivation for learning; experimenting with e-learning technologies and supporting staff development through the use of lesson study. Participants last year said that the best part of the Exchange was having the space and time to work constructively with peers. Peer-to-peer learning was seen as more valuable than traditional models of continuing professional development. Building on the success of last year’s Exchange, we decided to offer the opportunity for double the number of staff to join the Professional Exchange this year. The invitation was met with over 100 applications from teachers and tutors, demonstrating the demand for opportunities to come together to discuss teaching, learning and assessment. As we start the new term it’s probably important to remind ourselves of the value of finding time to improve professional practice. Mary Vine-Morris is the Area Director for London and National Lead for Employment, Engagement and Support at the Association of Colleges