Students at FE colleges are making less progress in maths and English than other types of institution, new figures show. According to data from the Department for Education, FE colleges had the worst progress rate of all types of institutions in 2016. Sixth-form colleges, on the other hand, had a positive success rate in both subjects.
The government’s English and maths progress measure reports on students at the end of 16-18 study who have not achieved A*-C in GCSE or equivalent qualifications by the end of key stage 4, as they are now required to retake these subjects at GCSE. This has become a funding condition for colleges. The measure shows how much progress those students have made, by looking at the average change in grade.
Pressure of English and maths resits
FE colleges have repeatedly raised concerns about the pressure that the change in policy has put on the sector, and the negative impact repeated resits can have on students. At the Association of Colleges (AoC) conference in November, education secretary Justine Greening said colleges had to ensure young people did not "hit a brick wall", and functional skills had a role to play alongside GCSEs. At the same conference, the Education Funding Agency’s director of young people Peter Mucklow announced transitional measures to give colleges some funding leeway over GCSE English and maths resits were to be extended to 2017-18.
Average progress in English among students retaking English at FE colleges was -0.28 in 2016, compared with a positive rate of 0.44 at sixth form colleges and an average progress rate of 0.10 across all institution types. In maths, the rate for FE colleges was -0.31, compared to 0.36 at sixth form and -0.13 across all institutions.
In November, TES relvealed that analysis by the AoC showed that students from the most deprived parts of the country made the least progress in GCSE resits for English and maths.
Sixth-form college students making most progress
The government has pointed out that institutions with lower numbers of students in the scope of the English and maths measure – such as sixth-form colleges, university technical colleges and converter academies – have positive average progress. About 80 per cent of students reported in the measure for English and maths studied at FE colleges (more than 120,000 for English and 126,000 for maths).
AoC chief executive David Hughes said the issue was complex: "It's clear that the vast majority of students who have not achieved at least grade C in English and maths go on to colleges and that means for some colleges the numbers are quite staggering." Overall, about 70 per of students moving on to colleges needed to resit one or both exams and in many cases this equated to more than 1,000 or even more than 2,000 students, he added.
"This scale of need makes it very difficult to compare colleges with schools where the numbers are usually very low indeed, often less than a class-full," he added. "It also means that there is a wide range of ability levels of students arriving at colleges with some requiring a little extra work to achieve a grade C, but others needing more intensive support, time and motivation to help them progress.
"We are in discussions with DfE officials and ministers to analyse this in order to find ways to address the challenge – every college is focused on supporting their students to progress," Mr Hughes said. "They and we know that English and maths are fundamental to young people’s progress in learning, work and in life. I am confident that, working together, we can find better ways to achieve the outcome we all want."