Survey reveals how FE takes disaffected school pupils and adults and turns them into happy learners. Joseph Lee reports
The largest-ever survey of student satisfaction in further education has found that colleges are transforming attitudes to learning and most people are happy with their courses.
Pollsters found that 89 per cent of students were satisfied.
They interviewed more than 43,000 people enrolled in colleges, work-based learning and adult education on behalf of the Learning and Skills Council.
Older students were more enthusiastic, with 27 per cent describing themselves as extremely satisfied compared with 17 per cent of teenagers.
The LSC report said the findings are "a credit to the sector, though there is no room for complacency in an environment which demands continuous improvement".
Natfhe, the lecturers' union, welcomed the praise from the LSC, but said the report was further ammunition for their campaign for better pay for lecturers and equal funding of colleges and schools. Barry Lovejoy, head of further education at the union, said: "We are keen to do even better but high standards are likely to decline if the Government fails to bridge the funding gap of more than 10 per cent between colleges and schools and if it does nothing to make a college lecturer's career more attractive.
"Lecturers cannot survive on praise alone."
The survey suggests that FE colleges are helping to transform disaffected teenagers and adults into keen learners.
Some 40 per cent of students surveyed said they had disliked or been indifferent to education when they had left school. But after at least a year in college, nearly four-fifths of students said they enjoy learning and get a "buzz" from it. Increasingly, students also say they enjoy the social aspects of studying. This year, the figure was 49 per cent, up 10 percentage points in two years.
And more than four out of five said they were likely to take more courses in the next three years. One, in a focus group, said: "School is like a 9am to 5pm job. College gives you a bit more freedom."
The satisfaction ratings for the quality of teaching was 91 per cent.
Students said sports, leisure and travel courses were the best taught, while construction was the worst. Engineering, technology and manufacturing courses, along with business administration and management, were also more likely to be badly taught.
Two-thirds of students gave top marks to their lecturer for subject knowledge, and 42 per cent said their teachers were excellent at making their subject interesting.
Students in the focus groups praised the commitment of staff. "A lot of our teachers are willing to help you in lunch hours and stuff, if you need the help," one said.
But the LSC warns that the rating for the quality and availability of resources is falling, which could herald serious problems.
More than half of students also feel that some lesson time is wasted, and a quarter feel more than 10 per cent of lesson time is wasted. One in 20 students feels that more than half their time is wasted.
But it is students themselves who appear to be the cause of some of the wasted time.
More than half complained about other students arriving late and one in five said noise and disruption affected their learning.
But some also said they were left waiting with nothing to do. Others said their teachers arrived late for lessons.