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  • Writer's pictureAndrea McMahon

Moving out of Lockdown in the Further Education (FE) Sector: thoughts of 3 trainee teachers

Updated: May 19, 2021

Training to teach is a highly rewarding experience, but it can often bring challenges that trainees, through trial and error, learn to navigate during the year. However, training to teach during a global pandemic has brought its own set of unique circumstances as discovered by three UEL teacher trainees who are currently undertaking an FE PGCE. We spoke to them about their concerns and hopes based on the impact of the past year on teachers and students as well as their hopes for the future of FE after lockdown. Written by Andrea McMahon, Head of Education, Training and Development and Juanita Apostolis, Senior Communications Officer, University of East London.

The FE sector has often been described as the poor relation to the school sector - a forgotten, undervalued and often neglected sector that has borne the brunt of continuous funding cuts by successive governments. The pandemic has added further strain to this system and affected thousands of 16+ students during a pivotal time that is critical to their career development, aspirations and future plans.

One issue that has clearly emerged is that of digital poverty; the difference between those with access to mobile devices and the IT savviness to use them and those without. Emilia Boulton, who is undertaking her placement at Newham FE College, says

“Migrating a whole scheme of teaching onto an online system has come with

a whole set of difficulties, with some students having no access to laptops.

There is a big level of frustration with digital poverty and although the government

did issue devices, it isn’t as simple as just mailing them to the students. With hardly

any warning or time to organise the logistics, valuable teaching and learning time has been lost”.

On the flipside, the move to online learning has brought unexpected benefits, which has strengthened trainees’ skills sets. Emilia goes on to say

“This experience has also forced me to embrace technology and to learn asynchronous teaching”.

Whilst training to teach, trainees develop invaluable skills sets that centre around a commitment to raising the aspirations of learners and creating exciting learning and teaching environments that impact positively on learners’ progress and development. During lockdown, they have continued to do this as far as possible, but have also had to switch flexibly between face to face and online teaching.

Sumandip Dhesi, who is doing her teaching placement at Morley College, says

“In a way, this pandemic has taught teachers and students to become more resilient.

It has put us in a sink or swim situation”.

Alex Cazely, trainee teacher at Newham 6th Form College, adds

“I think realistically we need to learn from this experience otherwise there is no point

moving forward. This pandemic has taught a valuable skill to teachers and students

and that is adaptability.”

Despite the challenges, all three trainees recognise the value of community and have felt supported through their training year by a sense of collaboration instilled through partnership working at their placement colleges. Communication is key. Suman says

“Our community at the college has been incredibly supportive. We have regular

meetings, various online resources available and have had sessions on mental health

and wellbeing”. Many of my colleagues and peers feel burnt out and agree that our

teaching community is what has kept them all going”.

Alex says his college has

“been incredibly supportive, and communication has been key”,

and Emilia says

“I am grateful that my college has always given us constant communication or had a contingency plan to support us”.

Despite its reputation as the Cinderella sector, it seems as if there is a change occurring in government in terms of the way in which the FE sector is being discussed at national levels. In January of this year, the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, announced significant investment in the future of FE both for students and teachers. He said

“None of our reforms can be delivered without excellent teaching in further education”. (

Whilst this is good news for those wishing to train to teach in the sector, the government needs to stick to its pledges to show it is serious about educational opportunities for post-16 learners. Emilia says,

“The government needs to seriously rethink FE as this is definitely a neglected

sector. I am hoping the pandemic has forced them to consider more financial backing. If we look at core skills, this is a space where these skills need to be addressed. The students need to be made more employable and become more confident within themselves. If anything, this pandemic has brought to light the clear disparities between the various sectors. This sector needs more support and should not be seen as a last resort – it is a space for potential.”

What has been expressed here is a very brief snapshot of the experiences of three FE teacher trainees. They, and their whole group, have done incredibly well to achieve so much in the last year. They are role models for aspiring teacher trainees, and we are proud of how far they have come on their individual journeys.

Andrea McMahon, Head of Education, Training and Development

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