College rejects A-levels for specialist vocational courses

2nd February 2001 at 00:00
A FURTHER education college is to abandon its full-time A-level courses and become, almost by default, one of Mr Blunkett's new specialist colleges.

From this September the Colchester Institute in Essex will not offer full-time A-levels. Existing students will not be affected, but the 90 who have already applied for the next academic year can "discuss their options with the customer services team". AS-level and A2 subjects will continue to run and some part-time A-levels will be provided in collaboration with the adult and community education college in Colchester. Talks have also been held with the sixth-form college, Colchester.

"Our plan is to concentrate on those vocational areas in which we are strong and where there is potential for growth," said principal Helen Parr. "This is very much in line with recent national announcements about the importance of vocational training and the need for centres of vocational excellence. The changes we make over the next few months will enable Colchester Institute to provide better programmes and better facilities for students." She said the majority of students were already on vocational courses and the strategy was aimed at focusing on areas where they were good.

A new range of additional vocational programmes was planned, including public services, computing and countryside management.

In December, Education Secretary David Blunkett said he wanted half the colleges in England and Wales to become specialist centres. He would be talking to the Learning and Skills Council to identify the colleges where learning, in particular vocaional courses, should be developed or expanded.

At present, the institute offers more than 70 full-time and 200 part-time programmes to over 12,000 students. The institute faces a clawback from the Further Education Funding Council of around pound;200,000 because of failure to reach student targets, and a similar scenario is expected this year. There are expected to be 50 job losses within the next two years.

NATFHE, the lecturers' union, said the decision meant the institute would not live up to its remit to provide full educational provision in its area, and the claim that A-level students could go elsewhere was cynical, as the sixth-form college was oversubscribed.

A spokesman said that "to prefer 'vocational' courses over 'non-vocational' is misleading. Skills shortages currently being highlighted are in areas like teaching, finance and social work that have A-levels as an entry-level requirement. A-levels are just as much vocational as anything else."

Meanwhile, Barnsley College may have to pay back up to pound;6m to the FEFC because of a failure to meet student targets. This is a result of a college decision to withdraw from franchising arrangements. The college has to produce a recovery plan by March. A spokesman said they would try to avoid redundancies.

In Newcastle, lecturers held a two-day strike in protest over new job contracts. NATFHE says there is a threat of dismissal over 128 staff who have refused to sign the new contracts. Staff at Redbridge College in Essex are to be balloted by NATFHE, following managerial delays in negotiating staff contracts.

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