The market-led competitive model of further education is not serving the needs of learners, Labour’s shadow education secretary, Kate Green, said today.
Speaking at the Association of College’s FE Summit, Ms Green said competition between further education providers did not lead to a bigger range of courses for students or offer the best outcomes for learners.
“[Research has] shown how that competitive model actually isn't serving the needs of everyone – it's not serving the needs of learners, it's not offering them – surprisingly perhaps to some – competition doesn't actually offer the biggest range of courses, it doesn't offer the best outcomes.
“You see the Ofsted results in general further education colleges where there are school sixth-forms competing with them, they tend to be lower than where you haven't got that kind of competition. I think that sort of market-led belief that competition will deliver the kind of outcomes that we want has been pretty comprehensively shown not to be the case when you're talking about the lifelong learning and colleges sector.”
Commission: Put legal duty on colleges to collaborate
Need to know: 'College of the future' report revealed
A report published by the Independent Commission on the College of the Future today called for the government to develop a “coherent post-16 education and skills strategy” that will tackle “nugatory competition” in the system.
It also called for a legal duty to be put in colleges that would force them to collaborate in the interests of students, communities and the economy.
Colleges 'must collaborate'
However, Jane Hickie, the managing director of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said “the statute book has no place” in trying to restrict learner choice.
“A great deal of collaboration already goes on at local level and long may it continue," she said. "What the FE and skills system must be about is employer and learner choice and the statute book has no place in trying to restrict that choice. University choices aren’t restricted and nearly all parents have a choice over schools within their catchment areas. Therefore why should local employers and learners be treated any differently for FE and skills?
“We know why the report refers to ‘nugatory competition’ but the meaning of nugatory is worthless or unimportant. Policymakers should remember, however, that independent training providers don’t receive grant funding and only get paid for what they deliver, and they deliver what their employers and learners believe is the best provision for them locally. “
Speaking at the summit, David Hughes, Association of Colleges’s chief executive, said that colleges don’t “want to take over” - but want an agreement on who specialises in what.
He said: “[There are] big issues around strategy and collaboration. There are some issues where maybe some other organisations are feeling like they're being left out and colleges just want to take everything over. I don't think that's true. What we're saying is we want agreement about who works on what, what the priorities are in a locality, who specialises, making it clearer to people where to go and what's on offer, [making it] clearer to employers.
“It’s not getting rid of all competition, but it's trying to get the competition in the right places, and the collaboration around those big sectoral difficult priorities that cost money to set up and to deliver on.”
Funding models in further education
Ms Green said that while collaboration was key, it was important to “respect the status of everybody in the partnership”.
She said: “Everybody has something to bring to the table, and that it is genuinely a collaboration and not a fight for supremacy by one institution at the extent of the others. You'll know that there are some sensitivities that if I were giving this speech to the [independent training providers] they'd be taking a slightly different take on the same question.”
She added that the government needed to “level the playing field” in funding models across the further education sector.
She said: “You can't have a situation that we have now, for example, where funding models for access to higher education are so different from funding models for access FE. You can't have the unevenness of funding that we've got between school sixth forms and the college sector.
“We do need to have a really good look at how the funding models actually enable every part of the ecosystem to perform to the full, and that's something we certainly would really want to work with you and all the other partners around the table in addressing, and particularly, of course, really crucially for your sector, addressing the real underfunding that you've suffered over the last 10 years.”