Remember, remember the 5th of November – a day of bonfires and fireworks and government proposals, which could also send the further education sector up in smoke.
The latest plans to reform technical education, announced earlier this month, could lead to the end of two-year study programmes for 16- to 19-year-olds. A proposed introduction of new professional and technical routes could mean that 16-year-olds complete just one year of study before continuing their training via an apprenticeship. While I can’t argue with the ethos of creating clear routes into work, I question a system that halves the time young people have to prepare for successful employment. The idea that you can make a 16-year-old work-ready in what equates to 560 hours of study seems shortsighted.
While learners may continue their training in an apprenticeship, we know that employers still expect a level of technical and soft skills that many lack at 17. This proposed change will put an increasing pressure on employers, particularly those small and medium-sized businesses which make up the majority of industry, to develop the skills of our young people, including vital English and maths skills.
In short, we are passing the education and training of our young people to employers in what feels like a further bid to reduce spending on education. Meanwhile the government continues to look to the higher education sector to solve the country’s technical skills gap when the further education sector is equipped and able to do the job.
As we approach the autumn spending review the Association of Colleges has set out a 10-point plan to deliver a better deal for further education and its customers. I back the calls for protected funding for 16- to 19-year-olds, the same access to loans for 19- to 24-year-olds wanting a college education and three-year funding allocations. In fact, more sustained funding allocations will enable colleges to do the very thing the government desires – work more effectively in partnership with employers to develop the skills most needed for the 21st century economy.
The further education sector has risen from the ashes of funding cuts and reform time and time again, but it desperately needs champions to fan the flames and empower it to deliver its potential.
Sally Dicketts is group chief executive of Activate Learning and tweets at @sallydicketts