Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Association of Colleges (AoC)

1.   The DCSF and 16-19-year-olds

  The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) is responsible for the education of all young people aged 0-19.

  The division of the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) has allowed DCSF to focus on issues in schools and children's services but there is a possibility that some important issues in the education and training of young people aged 14-19 might be receiving less attention than they merit.

  Colleges are the leading institutions in the education and training of this age group as the following figures illustrate:

    —  727,000 16-18-year-olds study in colleges (compared to 447,000 in school sixth forms).

    —  50% of all 16-19-year-olds in education or training are studying in colleges.

    —  120,000 14-16-year-olds choose to study vocational courses in colleges.

    —  Colleges deliver one-third of A-levels.

    —  64% of 16-18-year-olds in receipt of an Education Maintenance Allowance study in colleges.

    —  50% of college funding is for their 16-19 provision therefore DCSF is as important to the FE sector as the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills.

2.   The Children's Plan

  The Plan covers all areas of Department of Children, Schools and Families (DCSF)'s work, from a child's first year to their 19th year.

  The Plan summarises various initiatives relating to 16-19-year-olds (for example the Diploma or youth strategy) but fails to mention various significant initiatives for 16-19-year-olds launched by the DfES in recent years. For example:

    —  there is no mention of the policies to stimulate competition in 16-18 education (16-19 competitions or the school sixth form presumption)

    —  no mention of strategies to raise quality (for example the quality improvement strategy or minimum levels of performance); and

    —  no mention of the common funding system for 16-18-year-olds being introduced in 2008-09.

  Possible question to the Secretary of State:

    —    Is he committed to the policies and initiatives launched by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) before June 2007 or the systems operated by the Learning and Skills Council? Is the Department starting from a blank piece of paper in post-16 provision?

3.   The Diploma

  The Diploma has been described by Ministers as the biggest education revolution since the second world war.

  AoC supports the development of the Diplomas as an opportunity for the value of skills, technical expertise and sector competence to be recognised as equally valuable as traditional routes such as A-levels and Apprenticeships. We were pleased to the see the Secretary of State further widen the Diploma offer to include science, languages and humanities and the announcement before Christmas of the UCAS value of the Diploma. Colleges are heavily involved in the consortia which will be delivering the Diploma. We see Diplomas as offering an alternative route through which young people can mature between the ages of 14 and 19 however, we believe that the present set of qualifications should remain in place until the first set of learners has progressed through the system.

  To achieve success it will be crucial for young people to identify with the Diplomas and that the same career paths and progression routes are open to those young people taking the Diploma as are currently available for other qualifications. It is especially important that higher education and employers provide overt and positive commitment. Next steps include staff training and development to ensure the consortia are confident in their ability to manage and deliver the new qualifications.

  Potential questions to the Secretary of State:

    —  Is he confident that the encouragement of competition between education and training providers of 16-18-year-olds is compatible with the need for schools and colleges to work together to provide the Diploma?

    —  What financial assistance will be offered to 14-19 partnerships in particular for capital projects?

4.   Machinery of Government changes and transfer to local authorities of funding for 16-19 education (DCSF /DIUS responsibility)

  The plan to route all funding for 16-19 education via local authorities by 2010 is a technical change with wide ramifications. The two Secretaries of State (for DCSF and DIUS) set out some principles for the changes in a letter circulated in November 2007. They will be publishing a consultation paper in Spring 2008 and there will be legislation in Autumn 2008.

  AoC welcomes the emphasis in the November letter on respecting learner choice, on maintaining national entitlements and on acting to minimise bureaucracy but we are concerned that the reform could make it more difficult for colleges and schools to meet the needs of young people. Our particular concerns are:

    —  Young people often cross local authority boundaries to study (more than 50% do so in London). This could result in some logistical confusion about whom is responsible for what.

    —  There is a risk that the new system will involve a longer delivery chain from the Minister to the young person at a time when the Government should be focusing on cutting management and administrative costs.

    —  Different Departments are now responsible for 16-18 education and apprenticeships. This could make services for young people less coherent.

    —  Uncertainty about the impact of the reforms could reduce the confidence of institutions about longer-term plans.

  The Prime Minister added a further twist in a speech to the CBI on 26 November:

    "In the old world you had colleges for everything that happened after school. Now we need a new focus on 16-19-year-olds in sixth form centres—and a similar focus on community colleges with state of the art training facilities that increasingly specialise in adult vocational excellence."

  Potential questions to the Secretary of State:

    —  What is the Secretary of State's vision for the future of 16-18 education? Does he envisage an end to distinct college/school post-16 provision?

    —  What level of bureaucracy currently managed by the Learning and Skills Council does he envisage transferring to local authorities to provide education and training to 16-18-year-olds?

5.   Education and Skills Bill

  The Education and Skills Bill is a major piece of legislation with more than 150 clauses which covers the raising of the participation age, changes to careers guidance for young people and the changes to the regulation of private schools.

  AoC strongly supports the key proposal which is to ensure all young people continue in education and training until they are 18. Colleges will be the essential component to the success of this policy. To ensure success, we believe that the following issues need to be taken into account:

    —  Public funding needs to be available to develop programmes for those who are currently completely outside the system.

    —  The education and training needs to meet acceptable quality standards and be delivered flexibly.

    —  Young people will need financial support, for example through Education Maintenance Allowances.

    —  Good advice and guidance is needed about the options available—AoC welcomes the clause in the bill to make this a requirement.

  Potential questions to the Secretary of State:

    —  Is he satisfied that local authorities have the necessary IT systems to ensure they can accurately monitor the level of participation in education and training among 16-18-year-olds?

    —  Affordable and convenient transport for 16-18-year-olds is vital for the success of this policy and of the Diploma. Is he satisfied that local authorities, particularly in rural areas, will provide such transport to ensure all young people can participate in education and training of their choice?

January 2008

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