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Colleges welcome inquiry into 16-18 participation in education

The Public Accounts Committee is to hold an inquiry into the participation of 16-18-year-olds in education and training in England, it was announced today.

It will take evidence on how the Department for Education is implementing its policies to increase participation while at the same time reducing spending.

It comes after a report by the National Audit Office, published last month, said better information was needed about the impact of government reforms to increase the number of 16- to18-year-olds taking part in education or training. The report found the overall value for money for 16-18-year-old learning increased after ministers raised the participation age and cut funding.  

Since September 2013 all young people in England have had to stay in full-time education or training for a full academic year after Year 11. From 2015, they will have to continue learning until their 18th birthday.

However, the DfE is implementing its reforms at the same time as reducing spending on 16-18-year-olds. In 2013-14, the core budget of £7 billion for this age group was 8 per cent lower in real terms than in 2010-11.

A spokesman for the committee said: “This inquiry will look at the challenges the Department faces, the progress it has made to date, and how it can get better information about the effectiveness of its reforms to increase participation and quality further in future.”

Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said the issue needs to be looked into "urgently".

“The protective ringfence for the education of 5 to 16-year-olds has resulted in a reduction of funding for students aged 16 to 18. Education for this age group has already taken its fair share of cuts," he said.

“It is time for this ringfence to be extended in line with the raising of the participation age. Despite these cuts, further education and sixth form colleges have succeeded in helping to reduce the rate of those not in employment, education or training (Neet) by 20 per cent.”

Kirstie Donnelly, UK managing director skills body City & Guilds, called the inquiry “encouraging”.

She said a recent City & Guilds review into skills policy showed that policymaking in this area has often focussed on short-term reform without thinking about the bigger picture.

“There has been too much back and forth when it comes to education policy, when what we really need to see is stability,” she said.

“I hope this inquiry helps policymakers learn from past successes and mistakes to yield better, long-lasting results that help meet Britain’s skills needs.”

The first committee hearing is on Monday at 3:15pm.

Related stories:

FE sector damaged by 'constant change', warns City & Guilds - October 2014

Impact of reforms to 16-18 education 'unclear', warns report – September 2014


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