Last month it was revealed that Further Education laid claim to being the most successful sector in the UK education system. Figures show that the FE sector has exceeded government targets for participation rates and has improved quality of performance across the board.
However, while the FE sector is delivering effective education and training provisions for vast numbers of young people the sector has been let down by state funding.
In his budget the Chancellor announced an extra £250m to fund 54,000 extra sixth form and FE places. Whilst this is a welcomed development after the initial shock of the £200m shortfall this doesn’t go far enough to help the wide variety of 16-17 year olds that are not in full time education or training.
Currently up to 200,000 16 and 17 year olds are directly at risk of unemployment due to the recession. This includes those who are in jobs without training, jobs with employer funded training, employed apprenticeships and jobs with part-time education.
Of the three million unemployed expected by the end of the current recession it is estimated that 1.25m will be people under the age of 25. It was also announced that there would be a guarantee of a job or training with financial support for all young people; however, this is only available to 18-24 year olds who have been unemployed for over a year. This excludes vast numbers of young people aged 16 and 17 who are not in full-time education or training and it seems like these young people are the forgotten cohort of this recession.
In the report ‘Raising the Participation Age: Keeping it on Track’ from CfBT Education Trust, we argue that the Government needs to introduce a 16-17 Jobs and Skills Plan now both to address rising youth unemployment and to increase participation in education and training in preparation for raising the participation age to 18 in 2015. This plan should include recruitment subsidies for 16-17 apprenticeships, a 16-17 Youth Skills programme offering non-employed programme-led work-based learning opportunities and an expansion of Entry to Employment (e2e) and Learning to Learn provision for disadvantaged young people.
One of the major challenges in increasing compulsory participation in education and training to the age of 18 is to change the attitudes of many young people who would rather face unemployment than spend another two years in a school or college environment. Education and training providers need to develop and deliver new and innovative activities that are going to engage with and benefit a wide variety of young people.
The new 14-19 diplomas are the first step towards more vocational education options but their implementation has not been smooth and there are still concerns over their role in the education system. To engage with more young people there needs to be a choice; choice of the best mix of qualifications delivered by the best mix of providers. Simply developing new qualifications to be delivered in schools will not effectively increase participation; environment and setting plays a big part in the decision over where and what to study.
For this reason we need to look beyond traditional delivery methods used by schools and colleges, it is here that FE colleges are best placed to lead the way in new developments. A good place to start would be to undertake a review of youth training and youth unemployment programmes over the past 30 years. From this study it may be easier to identify programmes which work and things that need to be improved.
The 14-19 reforms have a big part to play in Raising the Participation Age (RPA). There needs to be a consistency in delivery and opportunity from the end of key stage 3 to encourage young people to continue through to further and possibly higher education. To establish this the Government should create a single national 14-19 funding stream to ensure that funding for this sector is fairly distributed between schools, colleges and less traditional methods of delivering education and training. Managed by local authorities this should include secondary school funding, FE funding, academy schools funding, apprenticeships and 16-18 specialist funding to minimise truancy under the RPA.
A 16-17 Jobs and Skills Plan will not only help thousands of young people who are at risk of, or already, unemployed, it will also open the gate for generations of young people to access the right qualifications and training for them from the best providers. We need to minimise the damage of this recession on our young people and establish provisions which in future will prove recession proof. The success of the economy will one day be in the hands of these young people and it is vital that even in these difficult times they are not forgotten about.
Tony McAleavy is Director of Education at CfBT Education Trust