Editor's comment

2nd December 2005 at 00:00
The presence of increasing numbers of 14 to 16-year-old school pupils in colleges is a welcomed expansion of further education. The vocational route is attractive for thousands of teenagers who, for whatever reason, have not been stimulated by the national curriculum in schools.

There is evidence that the increased flexibility programme - the best-known of the schemes for bringing pupils into colleges - has improved staying-on rates at 16.

While we celebrate this achievement, we should be cautious with our language. "Dropping out" and leaving full-time education are not necessarily the same thing.

Education is only a good alternative to the workplace when it can offer something tangibly better. There will always be those who leave education at 16 for what we too easily dismiss as a "dead-end job", only to find their feet later in life.

There are many successful people, some in senior positions in government and further education, who have personal experience of this. That said, as a practitioners' newspaper, as opposed to a publication for students, our main concern is the staff who must teach this new group of learners.

We know that, for many pupils, colleges have succeeded where schools have failed. But there is an area of concern which, as management-speak would have it, remains the "elephant in the room" - the issue of discipline.

As our coverage of 14-16 on page two shows, the responses to this issue range from denials that badly behaved teenagers are being dumped on colleges to innovative, if bizarre, schemes to control behaviour.

Bad behaviour has been discussed on our online forums by lecturers and has included violence in some colleges, as FE Focus has reported. Behaviour is an area where FE needs to hold its ground if it is not simply going to end up with the same problem as schools. Colleges cannot afford to pay for the army of consultants which schools use for dealing with bad behaviour.

If colleges are not to be a dumping ground for badly behaved school children, they will demonstrate this by refusing to teach those who cause problems.

Poor discipline is the major coffee-time groaning subject in many school staffrooms up and down the country. Lecturers, already bedevilled by poor pay, must be spared this problem - or a heavy price will be paid in terms of staff morale and the overall effectiveness of colleges.

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