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Further Education: Driven by Targets or Target Driven?

Further Education: Driven by Targets or Target Driven?

Further Education & Training: Driven by Targets or Target Driven?

The UK spending review 2010 was the first act in a then new conservative/Liberal democrat coalition to redress the fiscal deficit accrued due to the banking crash of 2008 and the unsustainable overspending by the New Labour government (HM Treasury: 2010) expenditure for FE was reduced to 2007 levels using the vehicle of accountability, fairness and the drive to increase standards not only in the education sector but across all government departments (Browne review: 2010; HM Treasury: 2010) 


The spending review 2010 brought about  strategic and structural changes to the FE sector that had the explicit aim to increase achievement and overall standards in the sector by continuing and even accelerating the market reforms of education ( Skills funding agency: 2011) as direct consequence of the funding cuts and the ideological realignment of the sector to a more progressive reform agenda (Osbourne: 2009) funding initiatives such as funding for ESOL (English as a second language) and the education maintenance allowance (EMA) has been abolished, the funding formula for colleges has been altered and the train to gain scheme has been rebranded as the small to medium enterprise apprenticeship. The balance of power is being purposely decentralised in favour of the institution. (Beck: 2008; Watters: 2007) 


The question of the effects of the policy of cuts to FE sector must have a multidimensional answer due to its wide-ranging effects. The cuts by themselves should not be analysed on its own merit, the ideological undercurrent must be examined too in order to ascertain how the cuts are likely to impact the organisational structure of the institution, the professional identity of the teacher and how they fit in with the new fiscal realities and ideological shifts. Not least, the moral and ethical impacts of the new funding realities on the learner, local communities and the wider economy. 

In the Beginning: The Spending Review

UK education spending for all stages of education

Research examining the effects of the spending review on the FE sector is scarce. A reason for this finding could be due to the short amount of time between the spending review, and the implementation of the policy.


This could indicate that sufficient time has not elapsed to fully elucidate the effects of the funding cuts.  An increasing amount of research has focused on the modernisation and adoption of marketisation of the education system in an era of reduced funding . Steer et al: 2007 examines the use of funding as a mechanism to “steer ” educational policy to meet the government’s own ends. With funding not being available to the institution should their aims not meet the governments aims.


Their research seeks to unpick the effect of policy steering on the institution and adequately ties this in with the adoption of modernisation in the FE sector. They go on to suggest that institutions that fall in line with their policy receive the highest funding and an “arm’s length” approach to governance. This would seem to be at odds with the idea and ideals of a neo liberalist educational policy and therein lay the tensions between funding, the institution and the state.  Steer et al: 2007 has suggested that funding of FE is dependent on compliance with a policy set by the state in order to garner the desired funding with the added carrot of an arm’s length regulatory system upon compliance. However, Bonal:2003 tries to make the connection between the external economic and global position of the UK and the competitive market forces that govern the UK’s and other countries relationship to the transformation of what Bonal calls the “internal educational market”. Bonal states that a contradiction exists or has existed where the country as a whole takes part in neoliberal market and that quite often the internal structures i.e educational policy and other departments lag behind in reform that would match the external economic environment.

The Impact of the Financial Crash

As the age of austerity bites and bites hard on the UK the traditional form of social welfare system and current funding arrangements will come up against a buffer of realism that could force reform to accommodate the decreased fiscal clout of the UK (Bonal: 2003)The research by Bonal (2003) does document accurately how changes in the global picture affect education policy which translates into the distribution of resources and funds available for education. 


Bonal’s work does not comment on the effect of politic on educational policy or the realities of underfunding or the effect of half committed market reform changes which closely reflects the reality in the UK. The FE sector exists in a funding reform halfway house with certain commentators espousing free market reform (Osbourne: 2009) whilst the realities are that funding policies are “steered” from  the top down with the institution expected to invoke market reform from the down up and therein lies the conflict and confusion surrounding FE funding. 


Other commentators seem to increasingly link the funding of the FE sector with the flow of market reforms from one government and ideology to the next (Stoten: 2011; Avis: 2009; Steer et al: 2007) therefore it would be prudent to examine the ideological currents in order to measure the policy shifts in educational funding as they seem to be inextricably linked.  

What about the Front line?

The front line - Further education reform

This blog takes the frontline to mean the level of the teacher and learner. And what about the teacher and learner? Within the maelstrom that is FE funding sits the teacher and learner or the frontline. Just how are the cuts in funding from the review effecting them? Researchers such as Coffield et al:2007 have examined the effect of funding determined parameters such as achievement and retention and how the fits in with the financial priorities of the institution, the demands of the policy, lack of resources and their duties to the learner. Stoten et al:(2011) and Edward et al: (2007) examine this very concept.


Both Stoten and Edward’s work, whilst providing some insights into a teachers changing pedagogy along with the changing relationships between teachers and the managers within an institution as a result of funding initiatives. However, the research by Stoten et al: (2011) did not have a large enough sample size for it to  be truly representative of the views across the FE sector. Furthermore,  Stoten et al  had only examined a sample size of seven further education establishments who were chosen based on available demographic data that were to represent a cross section of society.

An argument can be made that demographic data may not be the best selection criteria to analyse the effects of funding policies on the  organisational structure and a teachers professional identity (Forrest et al:2004) Forrest et al: (2004) suggest that there could be differences in the organisational structure of an institution regardless of its demographics. This would suggest that Stoten et al: (2011) would either need to increase the sample size to include many more institutions or change the process of selecting the institutions. By using this method the relationship between; funding and organisational structure, funding and demographics and also funding and policy initiatives can be ascertained and elucidated at a greater statistical significance. 


The link between the funding of the FE sector and the means by which it is delivered has been established (targets, retention, achievement) (Finlay:2007) so too has the link between funding and reform. To begin to fully understand the how the funding cuts to the FE sector are affecting their organisational structures and also the frontline, it would be beneficial to begin with an historical overview that has led to the spending review 2010. 

Target Driven Funding: The Right Approach?

Reform in Further Education

The Education Reform Act (1988) was essentially the starting point for the transformation of both the compulsory and FE sectors in England (Strain et al: 2008) It sets out a blue print for the decentralisation of power from the state to the institutions giving them much more responsibility for their own budgets and curriculum’s. The education reform act was derived from the 1977 education green paper that attempted to raise the standards in education (Education reform act: 1988) The act attempted to get the FE sector to create links with local businesses. A comment can be made that  the education reform act and the further and higher education reform act (1992) were the starting guns for the decentralisation and the introduction of new public management reforms to the FE sector that will affect how it is funded. 

Targets, Finance, Further Education and the Government

targets, finance , further education and the government

Both the education reform act (1988) and the further and higher education reform act (1992) state that the secretary of state sets the national targets for the FE sector. Here in lies the seed of the problem that is being currently felt due to spending review facilitated cuts. The FE sector has a funding formula that is set through achievement and retention rates (Finlay:2007) The reform acts seeks to decentralise power and at the same time centralise power. 



In essence colleges have the illusion of increased competition and a more student led funding arrangement through market reforms but the state sets the targets and therefore allocation of funds. This is the mirror opposite of what a neoliberalist new public management agenda should be (Thorsen et al: 2010) There is scope for the political elite to use targets for their own political ends and therefore play politic with FE through the funding mechanisms. This relationship does not occur in any other free market sector. It would seem that full market reform of the FE sector with the sector fully responsible for their own targets was and is a risky political gamble too far.



As early as 2009 the then shadow chancellor of the exchequer George Osbourne set out his policy in a speech articulating his educational reforms in a time of austerity. In retrospect his speech was a harbinger of the scale of cuts to come.  



In light of the spending review, what has the effect been on the frontline? In a word, the teachers at the sharp end of the cuts have been forced to reassess their priorities (Coffield et al: 2007) Popham et al: 2001 suggested that teaching to the test was a prevalent feature of the education system even at a time of relative economic prosperity. 



This is a symptom of the targets driven funding system. One could extrapolate those findings into today’s educational climate and deduce that the cuts could cause teachers in the FE sector to teach to the test in order to meet the financial constraints placed upon them. This can pose a moral dilemma for the teacher: a choice between doing the right thing for the student and developing their potential  against the reality that if they do not “teach to the test” their very institution and even job could be at risk.  

A New Way Forward?

The FE funding formula comprises of four main targets that dictate the allocation of funds; The number of students, business or employer engagement, achievement/success rates and the frequency of teachers with the relevant teaching qualification (Learning and skills council:2002; cited in Steer et al: 2007) 



An unintended consequence of the targets could be that colleges feel under pressure to enter students onto additional qualifications in order to increase the level of funding that they received (Leney et al: 1998; Cited in Steer et al: 2007) The policy of fiscal austerity in FE could lead to an increased incidence of this occurring. However, can the institutions be blamed for taking this approach to their own funding? In short, the answer is no. The centralised nature of “funding for targets” leaves scant room for the real issue of FE and that is the student learning experience.  



The spending review: 2010 also has an impact on the organisational structure of an institution (Steer et al: 2007; Coffield et al: 2007; Watters: 2007) The new  public management reforms in the FE sector has led to the a sea change in the leadership and organisational structure. Principals and line managers are now responsible for the interpretation and implementation of government policy (Steer et al: 2007) The spending review preceded the Browne review: 2010. The Browne review realigns the state – institution relationship by redefining the funding arrangements for FE again.  



There is a significant sum that is not being collected from students or employers for the cost of their qualification. (Browne review: 2010) the review goes on to suggest that FE and skills be paid for on an equal basis between the state, learner and employers. Funding for a level three qualification for students 24 and over has been abolished. Similarly, funding for the first level 2 qualification has also been abolished  (IFL: 2012) This runs counter to the aims of increasing skills in the UK for economic benefit and social mobility.  

The Wider Societal and Philosophical Impact of Policy

By abolishing the provision for a free first level 2 & 3 qualification could lead to those in society from a lower socio- economic background  missing out on an opportunity to gain skills and increase their chances of employment (IFL:2012) At first it makes little sense to abolish a fund for those at the fringes of society that will help them to gain employment. However, after considered judgement the policy could be right.


 By offering everyone a chance to access free first level 2 and 3 qualifications over the age of 24yrs, there seems to be a cast the net as wide as possible approach to increase skill levels, in the post spending review order of less funds to colleges. the idea of targeting and offering everyone, regardless of financial status the chance of a free qualification does not make financial sense and blows against the prevailing neoliberal marketisation wind of the conservative/ liberal democrat coalitions doctrine of progressive reform and fairness. By targeting scarce resources to those who need it based on means tested data makes for good financial sense. That way the objective of targeting those in with a lower socio-economic status will be met.  


A consequence of what is termed co-investment (increasing student and employer financial contribution) is that colleges will be increasingly responsible for collection of funds from students and employers. Further decreases in funds to an institution will result, should the amount of funds collected not correlate with expected income.  


The effect on the teacher could be to further erode their professionalism by asking them to have a dual role of debt collector and educator. What should happen to the student(s) if funds are not collected from them? Does the teacher have to exclude them from class? This crosses ethical and moral boundaries as the aim of the teacher should be to enable the student to reach their full potential and not erect boundaries to their participation. Similarly, if employers are foot dragging in paying the costs of tuition for their employee’s which then results in litigation, this could cost the institution from both the litigation itself and the penalties imposed from the skills funding agency and the education funding agency (The skills funding agency and further education funding 10th report:2010)   

Why are we so Surprised? Cause & Effect?

The spending review has meant that funds for ESOL and the EMA have been abolished to be replaced by a learner funded arrangement in the ESOL case and an enhanced discretionary support fund in place of the EMA (Exley:



The commentary surrounding their abolition has been vociferous and represented as an attack on the most vulnerable in society even to go as far as saying that the abolition of the ESOL will affect UK wide immigrant integration (Exley: 2011) However, research by Maguire: 2008 examines the efficacy of the EMA and comes to different conclusions as to its effect if it were abolished. 


The comment by Exley (2011) supporting the argument that the ESOL and EMA removal will be detrimental to inclusivity and participation is a valid comment. However, there is no comment on the effect on teachers of ESOL and the institutions themselves. 


In areas with a high immigrant demographic, colleges that rely on the funds from ESOL students will be at a greater financial disadvantage to those colleges situated in a different catchment with a different demographic. Those colleges with a high ESOL provision will be forced to cut back in other departments or make staff redundancies in order to balance the books. 


However, Research by Maguire: (2008) suggests that retention rates were increased after the introduction of the EMA but that was due to a condition of the learning agreement for the payment to take place. Furthermore, Maguire: (2008) went on to suggest that the decision to go to college did not hinge on the receipt of the EMA. If Maguire’s findings are correct then this would translate to no change in student enrolment, subsequently no loss of funds for the institution. 

Treading a New Path

In summary, the spending review of 2010 has posed some difficult and awkward questions for further education institutions and learners alike. The state is realigning the relationship between the state,  learner and the employer onto a more equal footing.


The role of the new market reforms in the spending review has blurred the role of the teacher. Should the teacher teach to the states agenda to guarantee funding or should the teacher teach to realise a student’s full potential? A happy medium must coexist with one eye on financial survival and the other eye on the learning experience. 


Perhaps we could take solace in the following statement: 

We have got them (students) to that point where they believe in themselves


This would suggest that despite the funding initiatives and pressures on institutions, the main focus is always….. the student. 

Gene doping – How editing our genes for performance may be about to become mainstream

Gene doping – How editing our genes for performance may be about to become mainstream

Gene Doping



What is Gene Doping?


Gene doping is the use of DNA to alter how a gene works. It involves injecting new DNA into the body directly for the sole purpose of enhancing performance of an athlete.  The world anti-doping agency (WADA) is the international organisation tasked with ensuring sport is free from doping. Its core vision is “A world where all athletes can compete in a doping-free sporting environment.”   


WADA has undergone its fair share of criticism of late. The uncovering of systemic doping by athletes of the Russian federation in collusion with the authorities and the unsubstantiated counter claims made by them against other nations has sown discord and doubt in the public mind’s eye about the effectiveness of the international governing body that is supposed to prevent these kinds of abuses. Is a higher game afoot? A kind of 3D chess among competing geopolitical interests, although using the syringe as a chess piece? This article aims to examine the new frontier in performance enhancement, its leaps, its bounds and how we all might have to face its consequences.  


A brief history of gene technology and how we got to gene doping 


The Human Genome project (HGP) was an international research project to map all of the genes in all Human beings. The HGP project completed the sequencing of all Human genes. The circa 25,500 genes that form the hereditary blueprint for all Humans is now used across the world in research laboratories to try and understand how the genes are expressed. The HGP has had direct and indirect influences in fields as diverse as forensics, agriculture, molecular medicine, microbial genomics, and archaeology and now it seems sport too.  


Key Dates in the development of gene therapy and editing. 


To understand the role of gene doping in sport and exercise it is necessary to have an overview of the current state of gene technology and from the starting point of the HGP. These are some of the key developments in this field.  


  • 2005 – Gene therapy approved and used for the first time by scientists in Japan. In this case, the P53 gene had been delivered to a patient with squamous cell head and neck cancer.  



  • 2006 – Development of genetically engineered lymphocytes shows promise as a cancer treatment.  


  • 2011 – Successful use of gene therapy to treat haemophilia in mice.  


  • 2013Studies into the efficacy of using transcription activator like effector nuclease (TALENS) to correct an inherited skin disorder Epidermolysis Bullosa 


  • 2015 – Results from a phase 2 trial using Zinc finger nuclease to modify CD4 and CD8 cells to treat HIV patients.  





How Gene Expression is Regulated


There are two main ways that genes are regulated; control of transcription (DNA converted into its complimentary RNA code – think of a coat zip being undone) and translation (messenger RNA (mRNA) is used to make amino acids that make up proteins in your body) and changes in the structure of DNA.  Your DNA is a blueprint for the production of proteins which make up you. The blueprint is made up of four different bases; Adenine (A), Cytosine (C), Thymine (T) and Guanine (G). In RNA, Thymine is replaced with Uracil (U). The bases link up with specific bases to form base pairs; A&T, C&G 


Mutations are ways that the DNA can be altered and in some cases the alteration of DNA has effects on the way a protein is made and the gene is expressed.  One example of this is a point mutation.  Mutations to individual bases can be introduced by either substituting a base with another base or when a base pair is either substituted or deleted. Furthermore, an example of a point mutation is Tay- Sachs disease, Cystic fibrosis and Sickle cell anaemia 


There are a number of ways in which gene doping can potentially enhance performance. The up-regulation of some cellular functions in certain organs and tissues that lead to enhancing the capacity of the tissue or organ to deliver increased performance.  There are a number of candidate genes that if tweaked, could lead to performance enhancements.  


Endurance – Red Blood Cell Production  


Red blood cells (erythrocytes) are cells responsible for the transport of oxygen from the lungs to the cell and carbon dioxide from the cell to the lungs. It is easy to see why this would be a target for genetic manipulation for the purposes of performance enhancement. Erythropoietin is a hormone responsible for the production and maturation of erythrocytes.


Gene doping - Altering EPO to increase erythrocyte production

Credit: Human Genome Research Institute

90% of EPO is produced in the kidneys whilst the remaining 10% produced in the Liver.  Furthermore, the production of erythrocytes is regulated by the concentration of oxygen circulating in the body. In normal oxygen concentration conditions (normoxia) of the body, the activation of hypoxia-inducible transcription factor 1 alpha (HIF1α) is curtailed. As a result, the production of red blood cells in the body ameliorated. However, in conditions where oxygen levels are low (hypoxia) HIF1α binds to the Erythropoietin (EPO) gene leading to the gene being up-regulated which leads to increased levels of EPO. Therefore, the production of erythrocytes will increase as will the haemoglobin and haematocrit levels.Furthermore, this leads to an increase oxygen and carbon dioxide carrying capacity of the body. Ergo… increased performance.  


Muscle Strength and Endurance – Insulin like Growth Factor type 1 (IGF1)


IGF1 is produced in the liver and is controlled by growth hormone. The release of IGF1 stimulated by sleep, low blood glucose levels, hypoglycemia, high intensity exercise and low levels of IGF1 itself. This in turn stimulates the pituitary gland to release growth hormone which then releases IGF1.  


IGF1 has a role in muscle building (hypertrophy) this leads to increases in muscle power. Therefore, performance. It has been postulated that copies of the IGF1 gene could be inserted into muscle cells to cause hypertrophy. This could be valuable for strength and power events such as weightlifting and sprinting.  


Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF) & Fibroblast Growth Factor (FGF) 


Oxygen, carbon dioxide, nutrients and metabolic waste are all delivered or extricated by the vascular system. The body has a series of vessels connected to all organs and tissues for this purpose. Also, VEGF promotes the growth of the existing vasculature in a process termed angiogenesis. Whereas, FGF has a role in angiogenesis and tissues repair. The idea is that when copies of the gene coding for VEGF or FGF are introduced into muscle, this then will have the effect of promoting angiogenesis and increase muscles blood supply as a result.  


The role in sports performance is that a greater vascular micro structure results in increased oxygen deliver to the muscles and greater energy production for exercise.  


Gene doping and VEGF expression

The Vascular System.

Alpha Actinin 3


Alpha Actinin 3 (ACTN3) is postulated to play a role in fast twitch muscle contractions. This type of muscle fiber (fast twitch) is different from other fibers primarily by the way in which energy is derived for muscles contractions and how efficient the fiber is at producing energy from that ‘energy system’. ACTN3 has been termed the ‘speed gene’. A recent study suggests that ACTN3 plays an important role in muscle metabolism and the fatigability of the muscle. However, the study does not suggest that it plays a role in muscle hypertrophy.   


ACTN3 would be an obvious candidate for genetic manipulation to enhance speed performance in athletes. However,  if ACTN3 were to be down regulated to cause a deficiency, there could be a performance benefit for more endurance trained athletes.  



Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptor – α, β, δ, γ


PPAR’s play a role in cell differentiation and metabolism. There actions differ between to the four subsets but their use for the performance enhancement is interesting. They play a role in fat (lipid) metabolism, glucose homeostasis and insulin sensitivity. All three would be beneficial to an athlete interested in surreptitiously improving performance. Lipid metabolism in the liver and fat cells (adipocytes) is regulated by PPARα as is the breakdown (catabolism) and β oxidation of fatty acids (lipid metabolism). PPARβ, δ and γ on the other hand are responsible for the metabolism of glucose.  


The up-regulation of these genes would provide benefits in the increase in uptake of glucose by the cell. Therefore, increasing energy metabolism for exercise. Increased β oxidation would also provide benefits to energy production for exercise but it would also help athletes who need to ensure they are in the right weight category during competition such boxing, MMA and even bodybuilding.  


If the PPAR gene expression is exploited, it is also easy to see how this could easily cross into the main stream from elite sport. The proliferation and widespread abuse of anabolic steroids and growth hormone in gyms and health clubs today only reinforces the idea that societal pressure placed upon people to look good can lead people down all sorts of quick fix avenues.  


Gene Doping to Increase Psychological Performance.  


Several studies have assessed the possible candidates for altering the expression of certain genes that govern emotional control, stress and an athletes outlook during competitions. There are two main gene candidates in this regard; serotonin transporters (5HTT) and Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Altering the expression of these genes could produce improvements in all of the above psychological factors to accompany any physical changes the athlete experiences due to gene doping.  


Ethical and Philosophical Considerations


Altering the genes to enhance performance, is this cheating? Is this dangerous? Or is it inevitable? Gene doping raises some obvious ethical arguments.  Because the pace of change in the field of genetics means that we are fast approaching the point at which we will be in a world where athletes routinely alter their genes to gain the advantage. However. this has ramifications for us all. The use of anabolic steroids in the competitive bodybuilding in the 60’s and 70’s and the subsequent rise of the health and fitness industry in the intervening time has leached into the mainstream.  


Should we expect this to cross over too? Will society deal with it when gene doping does come along and what are the implications for society when we are in the era when gym members start to artificially alter the ways their genes are expressed just to look good? One could also argue that we all inherit  DNA, chromosomes and genes from successive generations with their own unique mutations. Some beneficial, some not so and some fatal.  


Why is Usain Bolt so fast? Is it to do with how ACTN3 is expressed and used in his muscles? What if another 100m runner didn’t have the same mutation as Usain Bolt or other runners. Therefore, giving a genetic disadvantage.  


By artificially altering our genes aren’t we just introducing mutations in a controlled way and leveling the playing field?  


In conclusion, It has only been since 2003 that we managed to map the Human genome. Although the pace of change in the field of gene editing, therapy, molecular medicine and others are increasing exponentially. However,  we are still in its infancy and there is a lot we have yet to learn and the dangers have not yet been fully realised.  


 Gene doping - Gene editing

Gene Doping: Editing the your way to performance?
How does the fitness industry standardise the quality of personal training…. Is certification enough?

How does the fitness industry standardise the quality of personal training…. Is certification enough?

How does the fitness industry change?


Fitness Industry Licence


The fitness industry now offers a variety of time frames in which to qualify as a personal trainer – questioning the true value of this quick win and turnover process. Are we not in danger of contradicting ourselves? Along with not solving the concern, but purely creating the problem…. What problem I here you say…

A variety of abilities portraying themselves as the next best ‘guru’ who will change your life and way of exercising…  A fire after all is not created with a match, it needs substance – additional material to show its strength and range.

Should our PT’s not be the same? Less online and more face to face material and REAL teaching – designed to enhance the industry reputation not dent it.


Are PT licences a way forward?

Each year hundred’s if not thousand’s of newly qualified PT’s appear in gyms, companies or standalone in the crusade to get a healthier nation.

Sadly for many, this is a fleeting visit for a multitude of reasons; lack of support, financial expectations not met, stability of income and poor business management to name a few.

So, back to my question of licences – to pass a driving test you need to meet a three pronged assessment; theory and practical – simple – pass the theory, including the hazard perception. Then drive for an assessed period before in many cases meeting the desired standard to be granted a licence.


A PT licence could follow suit. Pass your course and then over the next 3 – 6 months have assessments/mentoring designed to help develop and enhance your skills. These can be centred around the key areas mentioned earlier. The aim is to support a PT in their transition and pathway, not stifle innovation or creativity. Given these extended tools for success, the turnover could reduce with the standard of personal trainers and provision may improve to support the growth rate of the industry and therefore the PT demand.

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