FE needs a single regulator with “sufficient resources and credibility to champion further education”, according to an influential committee of peers.
The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee – which includes former chancellors Lord Darling of Roulanish and Lord Lamont of Lerwick – today publishes its report Treating Students Fairly: The Economics of Post-School Education.
The wide-ranging report makes many recommendations, including abolishing the Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA), scrapping the government’s 3 million apprenticeships target and creating a single, Ucas-style application system for all FE and apprenticeship programmes.
Committee chair Lord Forsyth, who also spoke to Tes ahead of the report's publication, said: “The way we expect students to access higher and further education is deeply unfair. We must create a single system, including apprenticeships, that offers more choice and better value for money.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: "We agree that for too long young people have not had a genuine choice post 16 about where and what they wish to study. That is exactly why we have overhauled apprenticeships to focus on quality and why we are fundamentally transforming technical education, investing £500m a year in new T Levels that will provide a high quality, technical alternative to A levels and make sure we can keep up with the world’s best.
“On top of this, we are undertaking a major review of post-18 education and funding, to make sure students are getting value for money and genuine choice between technical, vocational and academic routes.
“We will consider the report and will respond in full in due course.”
Fiona Aldridge, assistant director for research and development at the Learning and Work Institute welcomed the committee challenging the "monoculture" in post-18 education. She said: "On apprenticeships, we welcome the committee’s focus on driving up quality and improving access. This echoes calls made by ourselves and a range of leading experts in our All Change report, released last week.
She added: "We strongly support the committee’s calls for full funding for a first level 3 qualification – for all students, full- or part-time, irrespective of age. Our performance in intermediate skills is among the worst in the OECD, and creating entitlement and opportunity for adults to develop their skills at this level will be good for them, good for business and good for our wider society and economy."
Key recommendations for FE
- A “better distribution of public funding across all forms and institutions in higher and further education”, as the system at present is “too heavily skewed towards degrees”. The report continues: “The structure and distribution of funding in the post-school education sector is unfair and inefficient. Further education is the poor relation to higher education and its position has been weakened and undermined by reductions to its budgets and a complex funding architecture”. This “accentuates the perception that routes into higher education that begin in further education are inferior to the A level/undergraduate degree option”. It adds that the government should “explore restoring some teaching funding for further education colleges so they can cover costs and stimulate demand for courses at levels 4 and 5”.
- To assist with this rebalancing of HE and FE, there should be a single regulator for all higher education (level 4 and above, including apprenticeships) and a single regulator for other post-school education (level 3 and below). This new regulator for level 3 and below should have “equivalent status to the Office for Students (OfS), and have sufficient resources and credibility to champion further education”.
- The 3 million apprenticeships target has “prioritised quantity over quality, and should be scrapped”. The report says: “The levy has encouraged the rebadging of training activity, most notably MBAs, that should not be funded or described as an apprenticeship”. Rather, an apprenticeship should be a method by which a young person, or new entrant to an industry, develops skills whilst working”.
- .The IfA should be abolished, as its role is “unclear”. The quality and outcomes of level 2 and 3 apprenticeships should be the responsibility of the new further education regulator; for level 4 and above, this should be the responsibility of the OfS.
- Schools “must present all post-16 and post-18 options as equal. Incentives aimed at schools which encourage them to promote sixth form and university should be removed. Every pupil aged 16 should spend one day learning about apprenticeships and how to apply for them.”
- The report says there is “merit in a single, Ucas-style, portal for covering all forms of higher education, further education and apprenticeships”, and Ucas should be asked how this could be designed and implemented.