Author Archive

How to Integrate AI in Everyday Teaching 

The digital landscape in education is an ever-changing entity that is being shaped by technological advancements and cultural shifts. What we think of as ‘cool tech toys’ today, like virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI), are becoming as essential to learning as books and pencils, writes Adil Hussain, digital teacher at Keighley College.  

 In the further education classroom, the role of technology has long since become pivotal in shaping the teaching and learning experiences of educators and students. But with the number of emerging technologies and the rapid growth of artificial intelligence (AI), we have come a long way in a very short time in what feels like a whole new transformation of our work.  

  Over the past 12 months, I have been exploring and utilising AI in different ways in the classroom and have seamlessly incorporated it into my everyday teaching practices. Leveraging a range of tools to help me organise, plan and teach my students has not only changed the way I teach, it also underscores the immense potential AI holds for the whole sector. 

Bringing simple ideas to life 

At the heart of my approach is Scribble Diffusion, a powerful tool catering to my Level 1 students studying English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) and foundation courses. Through this platform, students are encouraged to sketch a drawing and provide a prompt, showcasing how powerful generative AI is and how it brings their concepts to life. 

For example, the students were tasked with sharing a word to develop a narrative. This was further developed through Scribble Diffusion as a photo story. As a result, it not only boosted their confidence but also put their language and creative skills to the test, stimulating creativity and nurturing a deeper understanding of visual representation. 

Fostering innovation and creativity 

As a games design tutor, I have found the use of Leonardo AI helpful in fostering creativity and problem-solving skills among my Level 2 and 3 students, enhancing their ability to develop innovative and engaging game concepts. This free, token-based generative AI tool is versatile across various vocational courses, demonstrating its potential to cultivate a wide array of skills. 

I have also been utilising Quizalize which has become my go-to resource for creating engaging quizzes – particularly useful for new starter/student activities or session recaps. The integration of ChatGPT within Quizalize has helped me streamline the quiz creation process, showcasing the collaborative potential between educators and AI to enhance teaching methodologies. 

Streamlining processes for efficiency 

Another area I have been exploring is TeacherMatic, which has rapidly become an essential tool to streamline my workload. By automating routine tasks and providing easy access to educational resources, it has allowed me to focus more on instructional activities and student interaction.  

However, while it holds promise in reducing the burden on educators and has the potential to become effective if developed further, its widespread integration across educational institutions is yet to be fully realised. Gillian Keegan may be pinning her hopes on AI to reduce workload, but there is a long way to go to make this a reality. 

 In addition to all these tools, I have of course also invested in ChatGPT 4. Its personalised prompts feature sets it apart from the free version. Customisation will be significant in maximising AI’s effectiveness in the classroom and meeting diverse needs, but the cost implication is certainly something policy makers need to be aware of. 

Soft skills are vital in our day-to-day interactions and perhaps even more so in the working world. As a result, I have recently explored an app called Body Swaps for soft skills training. This innovative tool utilises VR to simulate interviews, providing individuals with a unique opportunity to refine their interpersonal skills. 

AI has revolutionised the way I work, making my teaching more personalised, efficient, and responsive, both in my day-to-day activities with students and in how I plan lessons. It has helped me facilitate seamless communication and resource sharing among my peers and students, fostering a community of continuous learning and professional development. 

All of which is truly beneficial for early adopters like me. (And there’s no reason you can’t become one too very quickly, no matter how inexperienced you feel.) The challenge now is to make this revolution systemic. 

Adil Hussain, digital teacher, Keighley College.  

Funding is desperately needed for ‘overlooked’ learners across the region

Alternative 14-16 provisions offer young people who don’t fit into mainstream school a unique setting for them to get the support they desperately need and make positive changes to their lives, with often fantastic results, writes Niki McKenna, Headteacher at Leeds City College’s 14+ Academies.

Despite this, these provisions, such as the 14+ Academies at Leeds City College, are few and far between. In fact, we are the largest in the country and the only one in Yorkshire, and are oversubscribed each year. 

We’re calling on the government to acknowledge the transformative impact these provisions have on the lives of our young people and invest sufficient funding so that we, and other providers, can help more 14-16 year olds – who are otherwise getting left behind. 

Many of our learners come from challenging personal backgrounds, and may have suffered from mental health issues, bullying or have special educational needs (SEN). Some parents have told us that we’ve been a ‘lifeline’ for their child, and that they may not be here today without the support they received from the academies.  

Almost 80% of our students, when joining, say they have, or are currently facing some type of mental health or wellbeing barrier. They’ve had their fair share of struggles. What’s more, an astounding 88% of young people report feeling unsafe at their previous schools.  

These are staggering statistics, and it highlights the crucial role we play in supporting and uplifting our young people. We believe it is our mission to show them that there is hope, that they are not alone, and that they can thrive. We also ensure that we are respectful of their opinions, and try our best to cultivate durable relationships. 

We recently celebrated our 10 year anniversary, and our journey over this time has been nothing short of extraordinary. We have seen over 1,500 teenagers come through our doors, all of whom came in with individual struggles and left with hope, determination and self-belief. This is because provisions such as ours provide learners with the tools to build up their resilience and develop an unfaltering belief in their own potential. 

We have seen young minds blossoming as confidence grows, allowing our students to reimagine their futures. The 14+ Academies has become a haven, a safe and inclusive space where teenagers can develop, maximise their potential and raise their aspirations, all whilst embracing their individuality.  

One of the key challenges faced by colleges that provide a provision for students of this age, is meeting the needs of learners of all abilities with a variety of activities that encourage independence. 

As part of this, 14 and 15 year olds who come to us are able to choose from a range of tailored educational pathways.  

The main offer is the 14+ Apprenticeship Academy, which provides students with the opportunity to focus on core GCSE topics whilst completing a vocational course from a number of subject areas. 

Some also enrol on one of the specialist English for Speakers of other Languages (ESOL) courses, or the P-TECH academy – which allows students to take part in an industry-guided course in collaboration with tech giant, IBM. 

With a class size of no more than 20, staff can understand how to get the best out of learners, with tailored teaching to match individual needs. It’s not just about academia though, our main focus is on developing well-rounded young people who believe in themselves and their abilities.  

Not only do our learners now feel safe, but they also feel listened to and supported, and frequently express their appreciation for the support they receive. We are here to give them the fresh start they not only need, but deserve.  

We are always delighted to hear that they find their time at the 14+ Academies more enjoyable and rewarding than their previous school experience – and, vitally, now care about their futures. 

Many of the students that we enrol have been out of school for some time and therefore home-schooled as an interim option. Since the pandemic, applications to our provision have skyrocketed, and we are doing all we can to try and meet those needs.  

We have 240 spaces in total for those who need an alternative learning environment to school. This means every year we are able to take 120 new learners in year 10. This year, we had over 400 year 10 applications for the 2023-24 academic year. Although we would like to offer more spaces, we simply do not have the funding to do so. 

This is a stark reminder of the countless young people out there who are still struggling, who are not getting the support they desperately need. Our anniversary is a reminder of our responsibility to advocate for change, because this simply isn’t good enough. 

We will continue to campaign on this issue so we can transform the lives of many more teenagers, because we believe each and every one of them deserves a second chance. 

Luminate and Whitecap Consulting collaborate to boost Finance and Professional Services (FPS) skills in West Yorkshire

We have joined forces with regional strategy consultancy Whitecap Consulting to enhance finance and professional services skills in West Yorkshire.

The project, funded by the UK government’s Local Skills Improvement Funding (LSIF), seeks to address current and future skill priorities in the region and is a direct response to the recommendations of the Yorkshire and Humber Financial and Professional Services Skills Commission.

The project will also benefit colleges within the West Yorkshire Consortium of Colleges, specifically Calderdale and Shipley College who are also receiving investment for fintech from LSIF. Together, the colleges will utilise the research to develop new learning opportunities using a suite of new equipment and technology.

The partnership will contribute to the development of new courses and curriculum to meet the evolving demands of the FinTech sector.

Rebecca Fores, Associate Dean of Higher Education at University Centre Leeds, said: “This is an important programme of work via which we seek to develop a shared understanding of what skills are required by the region and a vision for how businesses, education providers, local government, and others can work together to develop them.

“This collaboration will play a key role in enhancing skills, fostering partnerships and driving economic growth in the region.”

She added that the key objectives for an increasingly competitive sector would include increasing skill levels, involving more FPS workers in training programmes, improving employment levels and attracting and retaining staff.

Julian Wells, Director at Whitecap Consulting, emphasised the importance of the collaboration. He said: “This partnership is a pivotal step towards fortifying the skills base in West Yorkshire’s finance and professional services sector. The sector has been experiencing change on several fronts, and developments such as FinTech and LegalTech have gained significant momentum.

“By aligning educational initiatives with current and future industry needs, we can ensure a sustainable pipeline of talent that will help future-proof the region against the evolving landscape of the industry.”

The Whitecap team will commence research and engage with regional employers and key stakeholders to understand the current FPS skills provision in the region. The project will result in a comprehensive report and recommendations, with follow-up activities including Continuing Professional Development (CPD) workshops for college staff and external events, focused on emerging fields such as fintech, open to regional employers.

This collaboration builds upon Whitecap Consulting’s extensive work in the field, including multiple regionally-focused fintech, legaltech and tech ecosystem reports, including several in Yorkshire, and the FinTech Skills Framework 2023 report in the West Midlands.

The Department for Education’s Local Skills Improvement Fund is supporting nearly £7million of collaborative investment in digital innovation across colleges in West Yorkshire, including FinTech.

If we really want to deliver diversity, we need a Public Services T Level

Curriculum reforms are welcome, but we need to tread carefully to ensure there is a clear pathway for all learners, writes Gemma Simmons-Blench, Deputy CEO Curriculum and Quality at Luminate Education Group.

The government’s reasons for wanting to de-fund dozens of technical qualifications seem reasonable: to, as the Department for Education (DfE) has stated, ‘simplify the system for young people’ and create a ‘ladder up for all’.

We have now got an impressive range of T Levels available which offer an attractive option for those seeking to mix their studies with industry placements. While curriculum reforms are welcomed, worryingly there are some missing replacements for all of the NCFE, BTEC and other applied general courses which are set to be phased out by 2025.

This is one of a number of concerns about the proposals that demand urgent action, nationally. The challenge is to introduce these reforms in a manner that doesn’t disadvantage any students or lead to successful existing pathways into work disappearing.

In this regard, the DfE’s claim* that only unpopular or failing applied general courses, or those that overlap with T Levels, will be defunded (*As quoted in this 29 January 2023 article) deserves scrutiny.

Take the uniformed public services courses that are currently offered by further education (FE) colleges, as a prime example. These help students – often with very few qualifications – to develop the skills they need to progress and pursue a career in the police, fire service, army, prison service or ambulance service. All crucial sectors for our society, but all facing challenges in terms of recruiting or retaining staff and ensuring their workforces are sufficiently diverse.

Undermining social mobility

These courses, running from Level 1 to  3, provide a unique pathway for young people for whom a direct route into A levels – or indeed, T Levels, and their five GCSE entry requirement – is simply not available. And there is strong demand for them; at one of our group’s FE providers, Leeds City College, we currently have around 350, 16-18 year old students who want to join a uniformed service.

We also have some 40 adults who came to us to acquire the 80 UCAS points they need, through achieving a Level 3 qualification, to go on and join the police through Leeds Trinity University’s Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship, which is funded by the West Yorkshire Police apprenticeship levy.

The government’s planned reforms, however, provide no direct alternative qualification for learners who want to work in the uniformed services. Instead, the DfE has made arrangements so colleges can apply for funding to run, from 2026, a ‘small Alternative Academic Qualification (AAQ)’ in place of their existing course.

The expectation will be for these small AAQs to be studied in combination with two A levels, which will make this new pathway much less attractive – and in some cases, inaccessible – to many. This change would restrict choice and, nationally, lead to a significant reduction in the number of people attempting to join our uniformed services. 

That would represent a disastrous blow for social mobility.

Delivering a diverse workforce

Our uniformed services still have a long way to go to ensure their workforces reflect our society. This government report for the police in England and Wales, for example, showed that as of March 2022, white officers made up nearly 92% of the personnel.

In West Yorkshire, Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime Alison Lowe described racial diversity last year – when statistics showed that just 7.4% of the force’s officers were from a black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) background – as ‘woeful’.

Yet our courses are helping to address these shortcomings. Some 20% of our Level 3 public service students in Leeds last year identified as BAME.

The gender split amongst students is also helping to address the historical imbalance which the police – whose workforce in England and Wales is 66.5% male – still suffers from. At Leeds City College our public services students last year were 60% female.

A diverse and inclusive approach to recruitment also means welcoming applicants from poorer backgrounds, and 40% of our public service students at Leeds City College in 2022 came from some of the country’s most deprived postcode areas.

FE providers are doing the work, now, to create that diverse workforce which our public services have been crying out for – through courses which might soon be gone.

That is one of the reasons why we are, respectfully, asking Education Secretary Gillian Keegan to consider the creation of a public services T Level that will allow colleges to continue meeting the skills needed in these crucial sectors.

Luminate Education Group secures funding to accelerate digital innovation in education

We are among several education institutions to secure £6.9m from the Department for Education to digitise teaching and learning in key sectors.

The funding is part of the Local Skills Improvement Fund (LSIF) and will launch a West Yorkshire digital innovation project.

The West Yorkshire colleges benefiting from the funding include Bradford College, Calderdale College, Kirklees College, Luminate Education Group (Leeds City College and Keighley College), Heart of Yorkshire Education Group, Shipley College, and Leeds College of Building.

Working through the consortium, colleges and partners will collaborate for maximum impact. They will develop current and new digitised training provision and curriculum for key industries.

The colleges will open specialist hubs and academies offering high level curriculum using immersive and digital technology and Artificial Intelligence.

The capital investment will include equipment and resources needed to use virtual reality, augmented reality, Artificial Intelligence, and robotics to equip colleges with the means to develop relevant and in-demand skills.

Project director of the West Yorkshire Consortium of Colleges, Joanne Patrickson said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for the region to advance the skills needed in technology to keep up with industry changes.

“Not only will the funding of new equipment help to improve the learning experience in colleges, the collaboration between our partners will grow the skills and knowledge of the teaching staff who can deliver relevant training to the current and future workforce.”

Bill Jones, Deputy CEO of Luminate Education Group said: “Being awarded this funding is fantastic news and will help to transform lives across the region.

“By creating more cutting-edge facilities and enhancing exceptional provision we will help to boost digital talent and meet the local skill priority areas needed for a successful economy.”

Over the course of the project approximately 5,000 learners will benefit from around 100 new courses, with over 7,000 learners using the new equipment purchased with LSIF capital funds.

The project runs until March 2025 and is part of the Government’s drive to transform skills training so more people can secure good jobs close to home.

Leeds City College and University Centre Leeds  awarded Sanctuary status

Leeds City College and University Centre Leeds have been nationally recognised for their commitment to supporting refugees.

University Centre Leeds has joined a growing Place of Sanctuary network, whilst Leeds City College has become the only fourth college in the region to be named as a College of Sanctuary. 

The status is awarded by City of Sanctuary to recognise good practice and provision in supporting refugees and people seeking asylum. Both centres were found to have taken positive action to embed concepts of welcome, safety and inclusion through their curricula. 

Ann Marie Spry, Vice Principal for Adults at Luminate Education Group, said, “As a group, we pride ourselves on being a safe and welcoming place for all, especially those seeking sanctuary.

“We have worked hard to embed a culture of belonging, addressing barriers to refugees and asylum seekers and helping them to achieve their potential in an understanding and welcoming environment.

“Throughout the past 18 months, we have successfully implemented staff and student education programmes to share understanding of the importance of sanctuary, the difficult journeys our refugees and asylum seekers have been through and their value to our society.”

Staff in both organisations have held listening sessions with English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) students to better understand their college experience, including what they need and what they don’t want from college.

A training programme has also been introduced for staff that explores common misconceptions about asylum seekers and refugees.

Meanwhile at University Centre Leeds, a wellbeing walkway has been opened to provide a welcoming outdoor area for all. It has been used as a safe space to share stories and encourage inquisitiveness and a sense of belonging.

Sara Trewhitt, Director of Operations at City of Sanctuary, said, “We had the pleasure of visiting Leeds City College and University Centre Leeds, and it was so wonderful to hear from such a wide range of staff and students.

“They were so inspiring, and it was encouraging to see so much aspiration and dedication in our discussions.”

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