Questions over long-term prospects for career colleges

New report praises career colleges - but says financial issues could put their future in question

Kate Parker

Careers colleges: what's their future?

Career colleges provide a motivating learning environment for young people – but financial pressures mean that the movement’s future is uncertain, according to new research. 

The report, published by the UCL Institute for Education, The Edge Foundation and the Commercial Education Trust, says “questions need to be asked about whether financial issues may impact on the sustainability of career colleges with respect to the 'expense' of delivering the provision (eg curriculum time) and the fee paid to the trust”.

It adds: “Local competition with schools may also impact on the sustainability of the 14- to 16-year-old provision, as has been seen with the recent move of some UTCs to extend their intake to 11-year-olds.”

Lord Baker: Career colleges are the right places at the right time

Background: 'Career Colleges' ranks expand with new catering school

News: First Career College to launch in Scotland

Career colleges were launched in 2013 by Lord Baker and the Baker Dearing Foundation. Existing within colleges, the aim was to equip people with the skills needed by business in a range of industries, including healthcare, hospitality and digital, as well as construction.

Currently, there are more than 20 career colleges operating around the UK and it was announced earlier this year that Scotland’s first career college would be launched at the City of Glasgow College in April.

'Rich, authentic experiences'

The report highlights lots of positive work going on within the colleges and says that the high levels of employer engagement – when paired with the highly-experienced staff in the colleges – support the adoption of project-based learning as a pedagogic approach. 

It says: “This means that students benefit from rich, authentic experiences and through these develop a wide range of employability skills that enable them to progress to further study, apprenticeships or employment.” 

However, the report highlights differing approaches to the college model. The report said that several interviewees commented that “they were not following the ‘standard’ career college model” and categorised four models: a 14- to 16-year-olds blended educational approach; direct entry for full-time 14-year-olds and recruitment at 16-plus; additional/ top-up career college 16-18 provision; and discrete 16-18 cohorts. 

The report said that work needed to be undertaken to maximise the potential of the career colleges concept. 

The report says: “The flexibility of the career college approach presents challenges for the identity/brand of each career college and how this sits within the locality. 

“This would suggest that the different Career College ‘models’ might benefit from being conceptualised more clearly according to the extent they constitute ‘distinctive’ or ‘integrated’ approaches to curriculum, employer partnership, professional development and student support developments.”

It added: “Also important to consider is how the evolution of career college strategies could be informed by ‘mutual learning’ across this national network, something requested by several career colleges, together with in-depth understanding of relationships within colleges and across localities. 

“As part of this thinking the trust would benefit from reflecting on their role in developing the career college concept and how this is communicated clearly to participating institutions.”

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Kate Parker

Kate Parker is a FE reporter.

Find me on Twitter @KateParkerTes

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