From education to employment

Refining Post-16 Education: A Vision for Bold Reform

jackie grubb

The announcement of the Advanced British Standard and related educational reforms signals a bold vision for post-16 education. While welcome, funding challenges and practical considerations loom, including increased teaching hours, lecturer recruitment, and facility expansion. Mandating maths and English until age 18 poses challenges. Despite these obstacles, these proposals present an opportunity for substantial educational reform.

Yesterday’s announcement regarding the Advanced British Standard, along with associated funding and educational reforms, presents a bold vision for the future of post-16 education.

Ever-shifting political landscape

In light of the ever-shifting political landscape, it is clear that these proposals may undergo modifications or even bear a different name when transformed into official policy. Therefore uncertainty remains, notwithstanding potential consultations and the publication of a white paper. Nonetheless, these proposals challenge the existing status quo in post-16 education and open the door to substantial discussions on reforming the educational landscape for this age group.

Over the past five years, there has been a noticeable policy shift towards emphasising technical education reform including the T-Level consultation in 2018 and the “Skills for Jobs: Lifelong Learning for Opportunity and Growth” white paper in 2021. However, these initiatives still retained the concept of separate paths for technical and academic education. The current announcement seeks to eliminate these distinctions by merging both streams under the umbrella of the Advanced British Standard, allowing students to blend technical and academic routes. From the perspective of further education colleges, this reimagining is a welcome development, and it’s heartening to see the sector integrated into these proposals.

Nevertheless, the success of these proposals will hinge on their funding and practicality. The proposition to increase students’ study time to align with international standards (1,475 hours over two years) comes with a substantial cost. For further education colleges, this means a 315-hour increase in the standard full-time curriculum, far surpassing the 195 hours mentioned in yesterday’s policy document. This adjustment would necessitate the hiring of the equivalent of at least 25 new teachers per college for a medium-sized general further education college with 2,500 full-time 16-18 year-old students.

The recruitment challenge alone poses a significant hurdle

The recruitment challenge alone poses a significant hurdle. The proposed £30,000 tax-free incentive over five years to address new teacher attrition is indeed a positive step and will aid in retaining newer staff. However, retaining experienced staff remains just as crucial for colleges and is not addressed by this incentive. A broader increase in the base funding rates is the only viable long-term solution to this issue, enabling colleges to offer competitive salaries that encourage the long-term retention of staff.

The recommendation to mandate the continuation of maths and English education until age 18 is a complex issue. While there is no doubt about the value of these subjects to learners and their future career prospects, it must be acknowledged that there is already a high demand for maths teachers. This could pose a significant challenge for colleges that are already coping with a surge in students requiring these subjects post-pandemic and a shortage of teachers.

Increasing teaching time by 15-20% necessitates equivalent space

Furthermore, increasing teaching time by 15-20% necessitates equivalent space. Current avenues for capital investment in colleges are insufficient to bring about the necessary changes, particularly given re-classification limiting alternative options. Addressing this investment gap is imperative; otherwise, many of these efforts will be stymied by a simple lack of physical capacity.

Putting aside these funding challenges momentarily, these proposals demonstrate a readiness to reshape the educational landscape. They offer any incoming government the opportunity to boldly address the country’s skills needs through more comprehensive reform, with further education colleges at its core, than might have been possible previously. As a sector, we should cautiously embrace this potential.

By Jackie Grubb, Chief Executive – City College Plymouth

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