From education to employment

Colleges Improving Basic Skills

The Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) has recognised the significant contribution by colleges to the Government’s “Skills for Life” strategy to improve the basic skills of 7 million adults.

The report was welcomed by the Association of Colleges (AoC). Colleges are responsible for 90 % of Skills for Life provision. AoC Chief Executive, Dr John Brennan, said: “We are pleased that Ofsted recognises the great work that colleges do. It is one of the reasons why Ruth Kelly maintains that colleges are the engine room of social mobility.”

Lack of Staff Hinders Progress

However staff shortages are threatening the strategy as colleges have aimed to bring Skill for Life from their margins into the centre of their provision. Short term and uncertain funding arrangements to support the necessary teacher training has exacerbated the shortages.

A number of agencies have spoken out about these problems, which have emerged over the last two years. Whilst vital skills such as literacy and numeracy are being integrated into vocational teaching, vocational tutors are being expected to teach and assess these skills. This is hampered by a lack of knowledge and training amongst the staff. Opportunities need to be made to upgrade the skills of vocational staff and insufficient training time needs to be addressed.

Dr Brennan said: “We look to the Government and the teacher training organisations responsible to ensure the funds and training in colleges are available to complete this job.”

Specialist teacher training courses for literacy, numeracy and ESOL have been introduced and these have been taken full advantage of by specialist staff in colleges.

Significant Progress

Despite such problems, the report noted several key areas of improvements. An increasing number of colleges are working with employers to deliver Skills for Life in the workplace. Furthermore, colleges are becoming more accessible for new learners and good personal support is given. Learners from groups such as low paid unskilled workers or the unemployed are now going on to gain national qualifications as a result of work by colleges.

At present the funding gap between schools and colleges stands at 13% and costs the average college over £500,000 a year. Closing this gap would give the colleges the extra resources needed to tackle the continuing difficulties they face with effective implementation of the Skills for Life strategy.

Angela Balakrishnan

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