Geoff Russell is Chief Executive of the Skills Funding Agency

Geoff Russell, chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency, considers what's been going on behind the scenes ahead of the start of term.

It's that time again, new term starting, sharp pencils and clean notebooks – or possibly hard drives.

With exam results duly celebrated or commiserated up and down the land, FE's valued 'customers' turn to their local colleges and training organisations in their hundreds of thousands. You will, I know, be ready to receive them and give them the best possible learning opportunities. But both you and I know your work doesn't just start now. Throughout the year much has been underway to create the right environment to make the new term possible, both behind your doors and in the wider FE world.

In my last column I talked about the importance of 'success'. I want to dwell for a few moments on some thorny challenges that have always been around where we both need to make further progress in order to enable more success.

One of these is helping to communicate to learners what they might be capable of so they make the right learning (and life) choices; a second is providing an environment that will attract the widest possible range of learners.

As to the first, it's vital that we provide access to comprehensive, high quality advice. Colleges and providers do this every day. For our part, we fund and administer Next Step, the national service that offers impartial careers advice. As you may know it's available free here; over the phone; and with a local adviser face-to-face. All the Next Step advisers are professionally qualified to provide careers advice to every visitor to the service, whatever their qualification, skill level or employment status, helping millions to move into work or move on in work - and life.

We will also launch the National Careers Service in April 2012 as announced by John Hayes, Minister of State for Further Education and Lifelong Learning. This will provide a single point of access online and over the phone for young people and adults, including a network of organisations providing face to face guidance to adults in the community. It will provide access to accurate and user-friendly information on careers and opportunities, including Apprenticeships. Courses, work-based learning and sources of funding will also be covered.

And from next month there's an important development as people will be able to open a Lifelong Learning Account from the Next Step website too, enabling them to make more informed choices about skills and careers. This will give access to a range of information and tools to match personal circumstances and needs, the results of which can be saved in a secure, private and easily accessible space. It's a great facility, so do take a look and encourage your learners to open one at

On my second challenge – attracting a wide range of learners by making them feel comfortable - as a sector, we're doing pretty well in supporting social mobility and inclusiveness. But I am pretty sure there is more to do and the recent ugly events on the streets of our cities owe something to this particular challenge.

On the mobility front, my strongly held view is that skills should be at the heart of every community's strategy and the Government is committed to making that happen with its vision for the Big Society. The Adult and Community Learning Fund, which we are running in partnership with NIACE, will help some of the most disadvantaged groups of adults take their first steps to learning new skills, sparking their interest in learning as a way to improving their prospects.

How skills are funded also plays an important role in creating a fairer society. We have given the choice of what to provide and to whom to colleges and providers – and we have protected funding for training for those with basic skills needs or on benefits, as well as Adult and Community Learning.

And I cannot resist emphasising that the Outcome Incentive Payment that we are piloting is precisely about incentivising colleges and providers to help more people progress into work or while at work. But we should not lose sight of the fact that there are some 400,000 unemployed FE learners already in the system.

Apprenticeships also have a major role to play and last month, the Prime Minister announced details of a £25 million fund to support up to 10,000 Higher Apprenticeship places. These will give apprentices access to high profile and sustainable employment, a higher earning capacity and provide valuable work skills, as well as sector and professional skills. This programme will sit along side the 40,000 Apprenticeships already announced for those that are not in education, employment or training.

And of course, mobility and inclusion are not unrelated. The Agency's draft Single Equality Scheme is our commitment to support progress in helping FE appeal to everyone. A recent example is that we have been looking at how to create an FE environment that would be more attractive for learners with different sexual orientations and gender identities. Early results show that there is much to celebrate already and I'm pleased that the experience of survey respondents, including past, current and potential learners is mostly positive. However, there are recommendations for change that will help create an even more inclusive environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender learners. You can read more about the research here

So as the new term starts and new learners arrive, we should celebrate the enormous amount that FE has achieved and will continue to achieve for the economy and society – but let us also sharpen our own pencils and ponder what more we can do together to communicate and deliver the magic of FE to the broadest possible range of customers.

Geoff Russell is Chief Executive of the Skills Funding Agency, a partner organisation of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills

Read other FE News articles by Geoff Russell:

Game, Set, Match

Nurturing the buds of ambition

Skills are the vital passport to jobs

You may also be interested in these articles:

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In May 2020, FE News had over 120,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.


We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.


FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page