Return FE to the DfE?

Despite not having direct responsibility for the further education sector the DfE has published a statistical bulletin about progress by 16-18 year olds in all key settings. There is still much work to be undertaken to ensure that those young people that don’t achieve a satisfactory standard in English and maths by sixteen are able to do so by the time they reach eighteen and leave formal education.

The bulletin can be accessed at:https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/352498/SFR32_2014_Main_Text.pdf It makes dispiriting reading in some parts. Seemingly, there is much for the general further education sector to do to ensure it adds value to every young person studying in these colleges. 50% of those that did not achieve a A*-C grade were studying in an FE college between 16-19.

Sixth form colleges had the highest proportion of students achieving grades A* to C in English at 16-18 compared to other institution types. The majority of students at FE colleges achieveda lower level of learning than they did previously. This is likely to be due to the majority of their students being entered for and achieving English qualifications at entry level and level 1 when they have already achieved a GCSE at grades D to G. The picture in maths was broadly similar.

Would it help if the further education sector was controlled from the same department at Westminster as schools? In the past, the fact that further education only dealt with students above the school leaving age may have meant that placing it in a department such as BiS allowed for a greater focus on the vocational work. Now that the learning leaving age has been raised to eighteen it might make more sense for the DfE to be responsible directly for all learning up to the age of eighteen. Adult learning and lifelong learning could be the responsibility of a minister shared between the DfE and BiS.

At present, as this blog has noted, competition for teachers and lecturers between further education and schools has lead to different policies of bursaries, golden hellos and other means of attracting staff. This is not helpful to ensure the right supply of staff across the country. Allowing small school sixth forms is difficult to justify in cost effectiveness, especially when resources are tight, as they are at present. With one department in overall control there would be room for more coherent planning, if such a term isn’t regarded as one of abuse in the present climate.

A greater focus on the vocational offering post-16 might also help with the development of effective careers advice to younger pupils. However, with the internet and so many resources now on line it might well be that young people should be encouraged to do more research about careers themselves so that they can enter into a debate about what type of life they would like after education, especially in those parts of the country where employment is still not abundant, particularly for young people.

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