Memorandum submitted by Association of Colleges (E&S 02)
Public Bill Committee considering the Education and Skills Bill
A better future for every young person
1. The central purpose of the Education and Skills Bill is to change the legislation covering the education and training of young people to ensure that they are better advised, better educated and better prepared for adult life. The Bill takes the historic step in raising the participation age to ensure that every young person stays in education and training until the age of 18. Today's young people are likely to live and work longer than past generations. The measure to raise the participation age does not take effect in full until 2015 but the decision to legislate in this way will change expectations among young people, parents, employers and the wider public. The policy is already changing expectations of everyone working in education and training.
2. Colleges have a central role in the education and training of young people. The 380 colleges in England educate and train 727,000 young people each year, which is more than are in school sixth forms, private schools and private training providers put together. Colleges have decades of experience in engaging with young people and cover the full spectrum of ability - including those following apprenticeships and those taking A-levels. Colleges have valuable experience in helping disaffected young people learn and improve their lives. They do not underestimate the challenges involved in 100% participation but they are confident that they can work with Government and other organisations to make it work.
3. AoC believes that requiring all youngsters to continue in education or training until they are 18 is a worthwhile ambition. There are clear economic and social benefits both for the individuals and the nation as a whole. There are strong correlations between low levels of qualifications and unemployment and between productivity and staying-on rates. Britain's low staying-on rate has been identified as a particular weakness in our education system.
4. This ambition is not about confining bored youngsters to classrooms and forcing them to pursue academic subjects which have long-since turned them off. It will need new and unconventional ways of learning with students spending some of their time in a workplace and some of their time in a college. The old rigidities need to be broken down and replaced with flexible unitised options.
5. Participation in education and training has been rising slowly in recent years and is forecast to reach 90% by 2015. The total population of 16 to 18 year olds is forecast to fall by about 180,000 (more than 10%) between 2007-08 and 2015-16. Given this, the costs of raising the participation age to 100% are less than might be expected - the Government forecast annual additional costs of raising participation from 90% to 100% at £774 million.
6. The population changes mean that there will be few extra pupils in schools as a result of the policy. Colleges will provide the majority of the extra places in education (approximately 40,000) and will play a major role in the expansion of work-based training and in particular meeting the Government's target of 400,000 apprentices by 2020. The key aim of the Bill is to remove the option of being NEET (not in education, employment and training) or NET (not in education or training). The success of the policy depends on attractive and useful education and training choices. The challenge in the next decade is to ensure that every young person counts. Colleges are ready for this challenge, which is why AoC supports the Bill.
7. The Education and Skills Bill creates a statutory framework which will not take effect until 2015. Many things will change between now and then, including the way in which the education and training for young people is funded by Government. Local Authorities will take on greater responsibilities for 16-18 provision in 2010. The Government is considering a new approach to the organisation and funding of apprenticeships. There are many questions about the detailed design of the system for the next decade, some of which will be addressed in a consultation paper due in February 2008 and which will be covered in future legislation. The Bill does not cover these issues because it does not need to. The purpose is to outline the duties and responsibilities of different groups and organisations, which will stay in place regardless of how the system works in practice. The next section of this note outlines AoC's particular concerns with issues raised in the Bill. There are five issues which we believe need to be addressed to ensure the policy is successful:
· independent advice and guidance
· high quality education and training
· the right financial support
· registration data collection
Independent advice and guidance
8. AoC warmly welcomes Clause 66 of the Bill which places a new duty on schools to provide impartial advice and guidance to young people. Many young people choose the wrong option at 16 after receiving unsuitable advice and then drop-out at 17. This Clause should go a long way to remedying this situation and is warmly welcomed by colleges.
High quality education and training
9. The Bill requires young people to follow a full-time course of education (unless they have obtained a level 3 qualification) or a part-time course of education and training if they are already in work. Clause 6 of the Bill defines 'relevant training or education' for those in work as consisting of a course or courses leading towards a qualification accredited by the QCA and be provided in a school or college or, if appropriate, at home. AoC believes that the education and training followed by young people needs to meet high standards and that an external qualification will help to do this. We have some concerns over the position of young people with learning difficulties which prevent them from taking an external qualification.
The right financial support
10. The Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) has been successful in increasing the recruitment and retention rate of 16 year olds in full-time education. 64% of 16-18 year olds receiving an EMA study in a college and for many it has become an essential part of the family income. AoC is pleased to note the DCSF statement that it will be 'essential to ensure that financial circumstances are not a barrier to participation. EMA will continue and we will look at the structure to make sure that it continues to be as effective as possible'. (DCSF: Raising Expectations: From Policy to Legislation).
11. The provision of affordable transport is vital to assist young people in accessing the right course and in exercising informed choice particularly with the advent of the diploma which may require study at more than one institution. Local authorities need to take action to ensure that transport is affordable, reliable and convenient for all 16-18 year olds.
12. Clause 68 deals with the issue of transport. It amends the Education Act 1996 to ensure local authorities take into account travelling time as well as distance but disappointingly does not strengthen the obligation on local authorities to ensure that affordable transport is available. AoC believes that local authorities must ensure all young people have access to affordable transport.
Registration and data collection
13. The Bill places duties on local authorities to 'promote the effective participation in education or training of persons belonging to its area' and identify those young people who should be participating but are not. The intention is that local authorities will maintain and improve the existing Connexions Caseload Information Systems database. AoC is not satisfied that this database is fit for purpose and believes it will need significant improvement in advance of 2015 to ensure local authorities are able to enforce the new duty effectively.
Education and Skills Bill - other measures
Changes to Connexions
14. The Bill transfers responsibility for the Connexions service from central to local government. AoC believes that this change creates opportunities to make Connexions work more effectively and to improve the advice and guidance offered to young people. The new duty in Clause 66 to provide impartial advice and guidance is particularly welcome.
Independent educational institutions
15. The Bill changes the way in which independent educational institutions are regulated, including organisations providing education for sixth formers. AoC welcome the aim of the proposals which is to ensure that those responsible for the education of young people are held to appropriately high standards.
Sharing of data to better assess education and training
16. The Bill includes two clauses which will allow HM Revenue and Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions share data with the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) for the purpose of assessing the effectiveness of education and training. AoC supports this proposal which will make it easier for Government, MPs and the public to assess the contribution of education and training to the economy. The main alternative method for carrying out this research is a destination survey (ie. contacting people several years after their course of study). Universities have made some progress in collecting data on the early destinations of their students but, in general, such surveys are prohibitively expensive and ineffective compared to the results that could be obtained through anonymised matching of individual data.
Entitlements for adult learning
17. The Bill creates funding entitlements for basic literacy and numeracy skills, adult first full level 2 qualifications and first full level 3 qualifications for learners aged between 19 and 25. AoC supports this proposal, which gives legislative effect to something that has been implemented administratively in stages since 2001 through shifting public funding away from other forms of adult learning towards these types of course.
Colleges and employers awarding their own qualifications
18. This Bill (through Clause 135) makes a small change in the regulation of qualifications to allow colleges and other providers to award their own qualifications to respond to the needs of local employers and communities. This reform follows the recommendation of Lord Leitch's review which urged the Government to put in place a more flexible qualifications system for adult learning, using models that work successfully elsewhere in the world AoC strongly supports this change and we are working with the Qualification and Curriculum Authority and Sector Skills Councils on pilots.