ETF Expert Panels meet

I didn’t know what to expect from the induction day for members of the Education and Training Foundation‘s Expert Panel members on Friday.

Three of us who had never met before had unorthodox introductions to each other. By coincidence, we were sitting in adjacent seats on a train approaching Birmingham and all looking a bit flumoxed by a distinctive map with embedded photos showing directions to the meeting’s venue. The instructions looked impressive at first glance but there was too much visual information for us. In fact, the plain text in the footer of the page contained all the necessary guidance.

Working out how to get to the meeting was an unintended but effective ice-breaker.

Members of all four Expert Panels attended the event. We were a diverse group in terms of experience and access to networks across FE, HE, skills, community learning, unions, teacher training, accreditation, policy, research and more widely, including – most importantly – learners.


There’s information about Expert Panels here and a list of Expert Panel members here. (The ETF is updating and relaunching the website next month.)

The day was well-structured with ‘get to know each other’ activities and changes of pace between information giving and dialogue, plenary sessions and group work. The collective experience brought with it a sense of realism with acknowledgement of the challenges, including:

  • cynicism from sectors who have seen so much change;
  • capacity to make a difference;
  • providers’ and employers’ uncertainty about the ETF’s purpose, relevance and relationship with current and previous organisations.

The analysis was unflinching but held no surprises and set a tone for open discussion.

Individual panels met in the afternoon to review plans and find out about work already in progress. We also discussed ways of working with each other, relationships with the ETF’s staff and governance and connecting our wide networks to make the most of communication channels. The Panel on Professional Standards and Workforce Development gelled quickly and we are likely to work well together.

So, what next? We might stretch an analogy from the ‘strangers on a train’ scenario where three of us tried to make sense of our maps?

Panel members spoke to each other instinctively having spotted some potential connection. We were willing to admit to a bit of confusion. We established common ground fairly quickly and worked out the directions together by distilling the available information. Each of us would have got there on our own with the information that the venue’s managers had provided, but it was easier to make sense of it together.

Of course analogies are trite and superficial. A simple route-planning task is no match for addressing the ETF’s challenges, but at least there’s a positive attitude of collaborative problem solving.

There were some social media exchanges and further train discussions after the meeting. A colleague summed this up with the comment: “Bit of a buzz after the event which is no bad thing!”

About Ann Walker
Adult education and lifelong learning specialist and campaigner. LinkedIn:

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