Education Bill

Memorandum submitted by the Association of Colleges (E 10)

Written evidence from the Association of Colleges

The Association of Colleges represents England’s Further Education and Sixth Form Colleges, of whom 97% are AoC members. Colleges are publicly funded autonomous institutions created by the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 (as amended). They educate and train 3.4 million people of which:

· 831,000 are aged 16-18 years old (compared to 423,000 in schools)

· 74,000 are aged 14 to 15 years old

· One-third of A-level students study at an FE or Sixth Form College

· 53,000 16 to 18 year olds study an apprenticeship through their local College

The Bill

The legislation contains a variety of proposals which relate to the education of people of all ages. Below we respond to specific Clauses of direct interest to Colleges and their students.

Clause 3 - Power for members of College staff to search students

This power reinforces similar powers originally passed in 2006 and reinforced in the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act (ASCLA) 2009. Both this Government and its predecessor have been keen to ensure that staff in schools and Colleges have appropriate powers to ensure the safety, security and effective management of their institutions.

We have consulted our members about this proposal. They say that Colleges need it as part of a staged approach to behaviour management. Colleges may occasionally ask students to consent to a search where there are reasonable grounds to suspect they possess items which may be illegal, pose a threat to safety or cause disorder. Such searches would usually involve emptying pockets or having bags searched by designated trained staff. The extension of the legal powers to search for additional items would therefore support Colleges in their commitment to maintaining a safe learning and working environment for all and clarity in the law would ensure that staff are protected.

Colleges would only use the powers when appropriate and may decide to call the police, rather than involving staff, if they perceive a safety risk.

Specific guidance is needed for Colleges to support the legislation. The current guidance, ‘Screening and Searching of Pupils for Weapons: Guidance for School Staff’ [1] only mentions Colleges at page 4, which is insufficient as training and advice is essential in order for staff to understand the powers available.

Clause 8 – new powers for Secretary of State in relation to teacher misconduct

This Clause passes to the Secretary of State some of the powers currently held by the General Teaching Council for England, which is being abolished through Clause 7. The Secretary of State will hold a list of those deemed unfit for teaching which will, unlike that held by the GTCE, include any such Sixth Form College teachers.

Further Education Colleges will be able to refer their staff to the Secretary of State’s list but the Secretary of State will not be able to investigate such concerns although he will be able to do so for referrals from schools and Sixth Form Colleges.

The Institute for Learning (IfL), meanwhile, is able to investigate lecturers in FE Colleges and disqualify them from membership, which is compulsory for those wishing to teach in an FE College [2] . There is no direct link between this process and the new list to be held by the Secretary of State through Clause 8.

In order to ensure schools, Sixth Form Colleges and FE Colleges can be confident that they are not employing people deemed unfit for teaching there needs to be a link between the IfL process and that introduced in the Education Bill.

The disparity in treatment between teachers working in Colleges and those working in schools is highlighted by the fact that just as the GTCE is being abolished, membership of the IfL continues to be mandatory for those working in FE Colleges.  With the IfL’s introduction of a £68 membership fee this year, these differences do not lend themselves to ensuring greater transferability between the school and College sectors.

Clause 13 - Protection of teaching staff from accusations from pupils

Clause 13 gives teachers accused of a criminal offence by a pupil a right to anonymity unless, or until, they are charged.

We are extremely disappointed that the Government has not extended this new right to the 140,000 teachers and lecturers working in FE and Sixth Form Colleges who teach 74,000 14 and 15 year olds and 831,000 16-18 year olds. The issue of false accusations is as relevant in Colleges as it is in schools; as is the need to avoid rumours and malicious gossip, which can ruin careers and people’s lives.

Including College staff in this clause would be particularly important with the extension of the powers to search (under Clause 3) to protect staff should any false accusations arise from an incident involving a search.

Clause 23 – Abolition of QCDA

Our main concern regarding this Clause is that there is a lack of clarity regarding some activities that were carried out by QCDA but are yet to be allocated to another agency or the Department for Education. The latest remit [3] letter from DfE to QCDA says that "alternative models for providing Exam Centre Support beyond September are under consideration in DfE". We would like to know when this decision will be made as examination officers value the training and support they receive in managing a complex exam system with multiple awarding bodies.

Clause 27 - The new proposals for independent careers advice and guidance

For many years the poor standard of advice provided to 14 and 15 year olds has led to too many badly informed young people and many dropping out of education at 17. Four per cent of 16-year-olds are NEET compared to 6.2 per cent of 17-year-olds and 16.9 per cent of 18-year-olds. [4]

Schools have sometimes prevented College staff from discussing course options, particularly apprenticeships, with their pupils,. A House of Lords Committee [5] report found that of a group of young apprentices, to whom they spoke, none had been told of apprenticeships in school and it took some a year to realise that apprenticeships were an option.

Therefore we welcome the proposal in the Bill to place a duty on schools to ensure all pupils receive independent advice and guidance. We are concerned, however, that the legislative change is being introduced alongside significant local authority budget cuts and before confirmation of funding for the All Age Careers Service [6] , which will provide the independent advice alongside other providers. We suggest that Government formally review the effectiveness of this Clause after three years.

Clause 28 - Repeal of duty placed on local authorities to ensure the Diploma is available

The Diploma remains popular and successful for some students on particular courses although Colleges have long been concerned about the practical difficulties of delivering the qualification across different types of institution.

While students should be able to decide the best qualification for them, it will be important that Ministers confirm their commitment to vocational education for 14 and 15 year olds when Professor Alison Wolf [7] issues her report on this topic in the spring.

Clause 41 - Exempting Further Education and Sixth Form Colleges that have been graded ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted from future inspections

We welcome statutory confirmation that those schools, Sixth Form Colleges and FE Colleges which are providing an ‘outstanding’ education to their pupils and students should be exempt from future inspections.

We seek clarification as to what circumstances the Secretary of State would order an inspection of an ‘outstanding’ College. In these circumstances we think the Secretary of State should advise the governing body why he is ordering such an inspection.

Clause 48 (Schedule 11) - The repeal of various duties placed on Further Education and Sixth Form Colleges

Schedule 11 repeals the following statutory provisions:

· The need for Colleges to seek permission to borrow money or invest in a company or charity

· The need for Colleges to promote the economic and social well-being of the local area

· Allows anyone to seek to establish a Sixth Form College, other than solely a local authority

· Removes the obligation on Colleges to consult with certain groups

· Removes the power of the Chief Executive of Skills Funding to direct a College governing body to consider disciplinary procedures against a College senior post holder

· Transfers and reduces the powers of intervention, in relation to failing Sixth Form Colleges, from the YPLA to the Secretary of State

· Removes the power of the Chief Executive of Skills Funding to appoint up to two governors of an FE College and the same for YPLA/local authority in relation to a Sixth Form College

AoC is pleased that Ministers have placed on a statutory footing the clear commitment they have already shown to freeing Further Education and Sixth Form Colleges from many regulatory burdens. The absence of these legislative requirements will strengthen rather than diminish the historic community role of Colleges and strengthen the importance of strong governance.

Clause 51 - Establishing Academies for 16-19 year olds

The Bill would allow, for the first time, the establishment of academies (also known as free schools) solely for 16-19 year olds. We hope that this development both draws on the considerable experience of Colleges and doesn’t undermine existing post-16 opportunities. It is worth noting that there are already 352 FE and Sixth Form Colleges and 1755 school sixth forms. Evidence [8] shows that small school sixth forms provide fewer A-levels and are of lower quality than larger providers such as Sixth Form Colleges.

Any costs of establishing a 16-19 free school should be kept to a minimum at a time when funding for some aspects of the education of 16-19 year olds is decreasing. They should be funded on the same basis as 16-19 education elsewhere and subject to the admissions code.

The Bill does provide potential safeguards for existing education provision when new 16-19 academies are established and where an academy seeks to add a sixth form upon conversion. In both cases, there is a legal obligation on the Secretary of State to assess the impact on other institutions and for consultation. To ensure transparency in this process we ask that Ministers publish the factors the Secretary of State will consider and examples of who should be consulted by those proposing an academy.

Clauses 62-64 - Abolition of the Young People’s Learning Agency (YPLA)

We are concerned that yet again the funding and administration structures which control FE and Sixth Form Colleges are being reformed. The YPLA, in its relatively short life (it was established in April 2010), has for the most part, communicated effectively with providers of post-16 education and ensured the voice of College principals has been heard via its Board, which also involved those leading schools and Academies.

We hope that even though the YPLA’s responsibilities are to be transferred to the Secretary of State, via a new non-statutory agency, this will not prevent consultation with Colleges. We believe there should be an independent Board to assist in setting an overall strategy for the agency and to ensure the views of Colleges and their students are properly heard.

Clause 65 - Apprenticeships

Colleges fully support the Government’s wish to increase the number of apprenticeships and are actively encouraging employers to take on young people and adults as apprentices.

The Bill changes the duty on the Skills Funding Agency, enacted by the ASLCA 2009, to secure an apprenticeship for every 16-18 year old. We were unsure whether such a guarantee was deliverable at the time. We are equally unsure whether there is need to introduce a new duty for the Skills Funding Agency to prioritise the funding of apprenticeships.

The reality is that other vocational provision, including pre-apprenticeship training, might be more suitable in individual circumstances. These will be particularly important with disadvantaged young people failed by the school system who may need extra help to access an apprenticeship. By placing this duty on the SFA, the danger is that apprenticeships may be closed off from a significant section of the population.

Clause 68 - Changing the rules as to which level of qualifications Colleges can charge fees for

This Clause amends the rules regarding which students get their course fees paid in full. Only 19-24 year olds studying for their first full vocational qualification at level 2 (equivalent to five good GCSEs) and level 3 (A-level equivalent) will pay nothing.

This and Clause 65 do not reflect the stated desire of Government policy to give Colleges greater freedoms to respond to their local community and economic needs. For example, a College should be free to use their budget to provide a free level 3 course to a single mother who wanted to train as a classroom assistant.

Clause 69 - Raising the Participation Age in Education to 18

This Bill confirms the Government’s intention to raise the education and training participation age to 17 in 2013 and 18 in 2015 but will not enact the provisions relating to levying fines on young people who do not participate. AoC supported the original legislation raising the participation age, providing five issues were dealt with:

(a) Independent advice and guidance

This issue is covered in relation to Clause 27.

(b) High quality education and training available to all

Many smaller school sixth forms do not offer the choice of courses needed to engage young people and their level 3 performance remains significantly below Sixth Form Colleges.

(c) The right financial support for students

The abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance is a major blow to efforts to ensure 100% participation in education and training. There is still no detail about value or scope of the replacement learner support fund.

(d) Affordable and accessible transport

An AoC survey of Colleges, conducted after the decision to abolish the EMA showed that 94% of Colleges believe that the abolition of the EMA will affect students’ ability to travel to and from College. Local Authority support for 16-18 transport is extremely varied with 29% providing transport, 20% providing financial support, 18% providing both and 27% providing neither. Student journeys ranged between nine and 35 miles with the majority (72%) travelling by bus.

Some local authorities are significantly reducing or withdrawing transport subsidies for 16-19 year olds. The Secretary of State informed the Education Select Committee in December that his Department was reviewing transport provision for both school pupils and College students but terms of reference have yet to be published.

(e) Efficient system in place to monitor participation

In 2008 our written evidence to the Public Bill Committee considering the Education and Skills Bill said that:

"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 (CCIS) 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."

In view of the significant reductions in local government funding we fear that local authorities may not have the money to fulfil these new duties despite proposals (in Clause 26) to make the exchange of information between CCIS and the Secretary of State easier.

Clause 70 - Higher education student loan interest rates

Colleges provide higher education to 168,000 students, and the proportion of entrants from low participation neighbourhoods is higher than generally found in universities. There is concern that the interest rate on loans reflects the income of traditional full-time students only. For foundation degree graduates, the median pro-rata salary in 2005 was typically £14,000 to £15,000 per year.

For graduates earning between £21,000 and around £41,000, a real rate of interest will be charged reaching a maximum of RPI plus 3%.

There is concern in the College sector that this increased rate of interest could provide a deterrent for some part time students and their employers, and that those nearest to the 25% intensity level might well prefer to pay fees upfront rather than spread them, and the interest, over a time period.

Clause 71 - Introduction of capping for part-time fees payable by higher education students

At least half of the 168,000 students who are studying for a higher education qualification in an FE College are doing so part-time. It was not clear in the Browne Review, or the Government’s response, how the regulation of part-time fees would operate.

OFFA has now produced draft guidance on fees regulation and the content of access agreements which effectively proposes to apply a fees regulation scheme on part-time students that is the same as that for full time students. However, unlike full-time students those studying part time are often older, in work with family commitments and with less time for study.

We would like an assurance that the regulation of part-time fees will not create unhelpful delays and that OFFA regulations do not require part-time fees to be set 18 months in advance. This assumes that everyone applies via UCAS and because the Student Loans Company requires a lengthy period of notice. Colleges believe there should be a speedier process for part-time students, many of whom don’t apply through UCAS. It is important that the system gives positive encouragement to those in work who wish to advance their skills. There is also concern in Colleges about how those following a Higher Level Apprenticeship will be treated with regard to course fees.

February 2011


[2] The Further Education Teachers’ Continuing Professional Develop ment and Registration (England) Regulations 2007


[4] Data from December 2009 in Strategies for 16-18 year olds not engaged in education, employment or training, Department for Education, 26 November 2010

[5] House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee report, HC138, July 2007

[6] Parliamentary Written Answer, 31 Jan 2011: Column 604W