Liz Maudslay, Senior Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges


Over the past year there has been increasing coverage of the rising number of pre 16 children who have been out of school during their last two years of secondary school with the publication of The Timpson Review of School Exclusion and the Education Committee’s report Forgotten Children.

Concern has rightly been expressed about the vulnerability of these young people with the chances of becoming NEET, getting into criminal activity or joining gangs a real risk.

However, less attention has been paid to those young people who at 16 choose to return to education and the part which Further Education can play in allowing them to succeed and transform their lives.

From May to July 2019 the Association of Colleges carried out a research programme which focused on four FE colleges:

  1. Bridgewater and Taunton
  2. Leeds City
  3. Walsall, and
  4. Waltham Forest

The colleges were selected both because they covered a wide geographical spread and because they had all expressed to AoC that they had experienced a large increase of students who had either not been at school for all or a part of Key Stage Four.

One college stated that a programme they had started for 25 students five years ago had now grown into a provision for over 150.

Profile of students

While varying slightly from one college to another the general profile of the students was broadly similar. They had been out of school for a variety of reasons including exclusion, removed by parents because of bullying, ‘off-rolled’ and moved into Alternative Provision or told they would be better off being ‘home educated'.

Some had been unable to attend school because of poor mental health or because of chaotic home situations.

Staff across all colleges were met with similar issues:

  • Low Self-esteem
  • Poor Literacy
  • Poor Numeracy
  • Poor Social Skills, and
  • Difficulty with self-regulation.

Colleges noted that while the individual issues which these young people presented with might not be new, the complexity of the problems they faced was increasing.

Learning programmes and support offered by colleges

It is clear from the research that a transition programme lasting up to a year is the best way to reintegrate these young people and give them the best chance of progressing to a regular vocational or academic course. Curriculums consisted of a blend of social and personal development, catch up with English and maths, vocational tasters and employability skills.

While having a strong emphasis on routine and structure there was also much time spent in building up positive relationships and trust between tutors and students.

All colleges had high levels of support services – additional support teams, safeguarding teams, counsellors, youth workers and pastoral teams, provided either by the college or by external agencies. One college found it important to run workshops on knife crime for a specific group of young people.


All colleges were rightly proud of the success that was achieved.

Inevitably a few students did drop out and attendance was not always as high as in other areas of the college but one college, measuring college attendance against students’ spasmodic attendance when at school, said that ‘it is not uncommon for a student’s attendance rate to double’.

For those students who complete the transition course the same college reported that progression is almost 100% with students moving on to higher level or vocational courses, apprenticeships or employment.

Challenges for colleges

There were however many structural challenges facing the colleges. There are no official means of identifying young people who had had disrupted school experiences and no category on the college Individualised Learner Record for noting this.


Alongside this staff often received no prior information about students either because they had been off the records of schools or because schools wanted them to have a ‘fresh start’ and were maybe concerned that if a college knew about certain behaviours they would be less willing to accept a young person. While it is of course important to respect student confidentiality prior information is vital particularly for students with complex needs.

Funding was a concern for all colleges. We found that very few of the students had High Needs Funding hence any support costs had to come from the over stretched college Disadvantage Fund.

There was no additional funding for the higher costs of the transition year, despite the fact that if students had attended Alternative Provision, they would have been funded at between £10,000 and £18,000 per head.

As set out in the recommendations of our report released this week (14 Oct) – the funding gap of £6,000 is not sustainable. When a young person moves into a college from alternative provision the college must be funded at the same rate to support these vulnerable young people adequately.

The situation is distressing but clear, these students need to be back in the mainstream and FE colleges can provide the right bespoke support they need. However appropriate funding and a more joined up approach from local authorities and schools is required if college are going to keep pace with demand.

Liz Maudslay, Policy Manager SEND / LLDD, the Association of Colleges (AoC)

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