An area review to scrutinse school sixth forms, university technical college (UTC), and free schools provision “has to happen”, MPs have been told.
Speaking today at the Commons education select committee's session into area reviews for post-16 education, David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said the move would save money and “get a better option” for learners.
Yesterday, the long-awaited first 13 reports from the first and second waves of the area review process were made available on the Department for Education website – months after the first reviews started.
But the reviews only looked at college-based provision. When asked whether the same process should be applied to other post-16 providers, Mr Hughes said: “I think it has to happen."
He continued: "It doesn’t have to happen in the same way for the same timetable, because…there are 2,000-odd sixth forms, so it’s a big number. But we have to do it. Because young people are not getting the deal they need. And the figures show that.
“There are lots of young people entering school sixth forms and leaving after the first year and that’s not in their interest. And it’s an expense to the Treasury as well, which we could reduce. So we could save money, and we could get a better option for young people that would help them better, so I think we’ve got to do it.”
Last week, FE commissioner Richard Atkins told TES there was a “case to answer” over small school sixth forms and acknowledged that, in some cases, the low quality and limited range of qualifications on offer was a “real problem”.
Earlier in this morning's session, James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges’ Association, said he did not think the area review process had properly considered the interests of learners.
"I think there are many flaws in the process, there are many flaws in the policy," Mr Kewin said. "I think for us, as sixth-form colleges, the fundamental flaw was the absence of school and academy sixth forms.
"I think we should probably change the name of the review. I don’t think you can call it a review of post-16 education and training institutions if you exclude over a third of those institutions, getting over half a million young people. So frankly I think ministers ducked the opportunity to tackle the long tale of underperformance in school and academy sixth forms and they focused on sixth form colleges and FE colleges."
‘We need to create a learner voice’
Also addressing the committee, Shakira Martin, NUS vice-president for FE, said that she felt that it was important to "look at the education system as whole" when considering area reviews, and recommended that students be given places on the implementation boards for any future future reviews to ensure their voices are heard.
"I think... learners need to be involved in this, this is why we need to create learner voice structures and invest in student unions and learner voice, because who knows best what they want out of...education than the student who is going into that institution?"
She added: “I would strongly recommend that we have students on the implementation boards for each of the waves to see how that is going to be implemented. And if we do the reviews of UTCs and free schools, again, learners need to know what this means. Parents need to know what this means."