From education to employment

Proposed Bill Will Lead to Confusion in Post – 16 Education, say Colleges

Reacting to the Education Bill, which is to be voted on later today in the House of Commons, the Association of Colleges (AoC) has responded critically to what they see as a perceived threat to the quality and choice of post ““ 16 learning.

The Education and Inspections Bill has had a troubled passage since its first publication. A significant portion of the Labour backbenches, led by former Education Minister Estelle Morris and former Party Leader and Leader of the Opposition Neil Kinnock, had threatened to vote against the Bill. This would have seen the Prime Minister relying on the promised support of the Tory Party; and earlier this week, a frantic last round of meetings were being arranged to attempt to appease the rebel MPs.

AoC Criticisms

The AoC have indicated that the proposals in the Bill will lead to chaos in post ““ 16 provision. The Bill proposes that Local Education Authorities (LEAs) should possess the power to approve the creation of new school sixth forms, but not the responsibility for funding them. This, the AoC feels, is essentially paving the way for the creation of more sixth forms without the responsibility for running them being assumed.

Also, as regular readers of FE News will know, the AoC have recently released figures that indicate that larger sixth forms perform better in exam results than smaller ones. The AoC feel that the new provision threatens the existing high quality by making it uneconomic for many colleges to offer minority subjects, as students could well be siphoned off into the local school provision.

Dr. Brennan on the Road Ahead

The AoC’s Chief Executive, Dr. John Brennan, called the bill a “recipe for confusion, and said: “Power without responsibility is not prudent policy. LEAs will be able to approve extensions to the 16-19 school provision in their area without any consideration of costs, or the implication for other schools and colleges already providing high quality 16-19 services.”

Dr. Brennan continued: “Instead of a proliferation poorly-performing sixth forms, what 16 to 19-year-olds really need is a guarantee of high quality choices from a wide range of subjects and courses; a genuinely comprehensive careers advice service; widespread access to vocational options at 14 and onwards; and funding for each young person to be equal ““ the funding gap between schools and colleges still stands at 13%.

“Colleges are now seeking assurances,” he concluded, “that all LEAs will have a statutory duty to consult all local 16-19 providers and the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), and to take into account the impact of new proposals on quality as well as choice, when deciding whether a new school sixth form should be approved. Consensus on this issue will ensure that an LEA is not working in isolation and makes the best decision for all young people.”

Whether or not this incarnation of the Bill does make it through the House of Commons later today, the trend of Government thinking seems clear, and it would appear that a means for implementing this policy without sacrificing quality will need to be formulated sooner rather than later.

Jethro Marsh

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