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T levels could 'enshrine' low esteem for FE, warns Oxford academic

Professor Ewart Keep of the University of Oxford said colleges are forced to spend too much time 'remediating earlier failures' in schools

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Professor Ewart Keep of the University of Oxford said colleges are forced to spend too much time 'remediating earlier failures' in schools

A lot of time in FE is spent “remediating” past failures in the schools sytem, a leading educational academic has said.

Professor Ewart Keep, chair in education, training and skills at the University of Oxford’s Department of Education, told guests at the Centre for Education Economics’ panel discussion on the Post-16 Skills Plan last night that learners starting courses at 16 without level 2 qualifications was a “huge problem” for FE colleges, and that the Skills Plan offered "silence" about how this would be managed.

“When you look at the FE figures our upper secondary phase is actually spent remediating earlier failures. That’s a huge problem. But basically large numbers of kids get thrown out of school, sent down to the FE college or to a private provider and then spend the next year or so trying to get that first level 2, which they should have got in the first phase of their education but didn’t,” Professor Keep said.

“Now the Skills Plan is silent about all this. It just has this strange, empty, vacuum-shaped box called the transition year into which all these unfortunate children who are not going to be doing a T level [are] placed, and what happens to them, once they’re in that space it’s not tremendously clear, and what it will lead to is not tremendously clear.”

'Dumping the dross'

Professor Keep also said that schools were under pressure to be selective and “dump the dross” – students who do not achieve level 2 qualifications at 16 – onto a neighbouring FE college.

“[If] I was the headteacher of the school, I’m looking at how I was judged and I have my own sixth form, then frankly what I am going to do when the kids reach the age of 16 in my school is going to be very selective. I’m going to keep the kids I think are going to do the school [proud] at A level and I’m going to dump the dross. They’re going to go somewhere else and where they usually go is the FE college, where they then have to be remediated," he said.

"So I don’t think that’s a good system. I think there is a major problem that in the way A level is the default route for the kids who’ve done relatively well and we still see the vocational as the route for those who didn’t do so well – and the sort of re-inclusion, remotivation...I’m worried that T levels will simply enshrine that…[and] the transition year certainly will.”

Within each T level route, students who are not ready to embark on a technical course at the age of 16 will take a transition year to help get them up to speed with the course requirements.

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