I’m 10 months into my role at the National Land Based College (NLBC) and it’s a good moment to give an update on progress and next steps…
In January Luke Harmer joined NLBC as our NLBC Digital Manager, which, alongside Jo Cummins and Sarah Purdell, completed the recruitment of our planned core NLBC team, who are based at our office in the Rural Innovation Centre at Stoneleigh Park.
In respect to Governance; our Development Board of 21 has evolved into a permanent Board of 16, still Chaired by Lord Curry, who has signed up to this role for the next three years. Having Lord Curry fulfil this role is a great asset for NLBC as we go through our initial years and look forward to the implementation of the Government Post-16 Skills Plan, Brexit and the wider challenges for the UK land based sector.
Key for NLBC is to work closely with industry, specialist land based colleges & universities and our awarding body partner City & Guilds, in the development of land based qualifications. We have now set the terms of reference for how we will work within our partnership with City & Guilds and our working relationship is developing well. Our priority has been the creation of a suite of level 2 and 3 Technical qualifications across land based disciplines. Our last Qualifications Steering Group Meeting (2nd Feb) was extremely positive and these qualifications are now in the final stages of completion, with Sarah Purdell (NLBC) taking a leading role in the coordination of the assessment writing. NLBC has been delighted with the engagement in the qualifications development from our NLBC member specialist colleges/universities, with Vice Principals from CAFRE, Capel Manor, Hartpury, Myerscough, Reaseheath, Sparsholt, Wiltshire (Lackham) and Writtle actively participating in the Steering Group alongside C&G/NLBC throughout the process. There have also been 54 curriculum staff from 20 colleges/universities taking an active part in the qualifications writing. I believe that through our hub & spoke model of working, we are creating high quality qualifications fit for purpose, with a structure in place to enable review and revision going forward if/as required.
Beyond the level 2 & 3 qualifications, we will be starting the development of Level 1 land based qualifications with C&G in April and Trailblazer apprenticeships at all levels will be key to our sector (particularly with the apprenticeship levy starting in April). A key focus for NLBC will be supporting the development of degree and higher level apprenticeship programmes (Levels 4-7) across land based, prioritising specific levels/sectors in response to industry demand. The development of higher level skills is crucial for the sector in meeting the challenges ahead and we plan to deliver these through a blended learning approach, with digital learning combined with face-to-face sessions around the UK. Initial discussions have shown there is much enthusiasm from the specialist colleges/universities to work with industry to create this blended approach and NLBC are now convening the first roundtable meeting with industry/employers and the specialist providers in March to explore the requirements and potential. The vision is that we will co-create programmes, strongly linked to industry, that could be studied anywhere, with the students coming together for block weeks/weekends at several possible locations and being supported by high quality on-line provision. This model is not new thinking, but the potential to do this collaboratively on a UK wide basis is new, and offers our sector huge potential in terms of widening access, creating efficiencies in digital content creation, attracting greater industry backing and ensuring viable cohorts of students for the more niche (but nonetheless important) sectors of land based.
NLBC aims to be the virtual college for the land based sector and core to that will be our website. We’ve had a holding site since mid-2016 and Phase 1 of our full site will be launched in March. We aim for our website to be the place to go to for information on land based skills development; there will be some key NLBC created content/features, however, we will also operate as a portal, linking to existing on-line resources. Beyond the website, I am looking forward to working with Luke in developing NLBCs other digital channels and support services.
On February 1st we held our first NLBC Board Strategy Planning Event, which was extremely useful in respect to Board engagement and firming up our priorities and aims. NLBC is fundamentally an ‘employer led organisation’ and core to our strategy is how we can work in collaboration across the sector to deliver the skills that industry both wants and needs. We are now finalising our strategy for sign off at the next Board meeting on March 28th.
Intrinsic links to industry are the core of our operating model and it is particularly important to foster strong links with key sector bodies, including the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), the National Farmers Union (NFU) and the AgriSkills Forum. It is excellent that Jane King (CEO, AHDB) sits on our NLBC Board, and that I attend the AHDB Skills Group meetings Chaired by Tess Howe. I was delighted also to receive a warm letter from NFU Deputy President Minette Batters in early 2015 before I started in my role and this was followed by a positive meeting in June last year. One of our NLBC Directors, Charles Matts, represents the NFU on our Board and NLBC are working in many areas with the NFU Skills and Employment Policy Adviser Lee Osborne. Last week I was invited to present to the NFU Regional Directors, where there were a number of collaborative actions agreed. The AgriSkills Forum Chair Richard Longthorp is also on the NLBC Board and we are working together to support the development of their AgriSkills Strategy.
In 2017 NLBC will formalise our working with the land based industry, aiming to link strongly to existing industry groups wherever possible and setting up our own Industry Skills Groups for sectors if required. We are aiming to launch an NLBC Council towards the end of 2017, where we will be inviting land based organisations to engage with us on training and education.
Crucial for NLBC is engaging with Government and following our meeting with the Defra Minister George Eustice in January, this month NLBC welcomed a group from the Department for Education (DfE), Defra and The Gatsby Foundation to our offices for useful discussion on the Post-16 Skills Plan and Technical Education White Paper. It will be very interesting to see how this rolls out, particularly the recruitment and activity of the Government Panel of Professionals and Route Panel for our Agriculture, Environmental & Animal Care sector.