FE Editor's comment

2nd September 2005 at 01:00
If there was any doubt about the value of further education and the talents of lecturers, they can be laid to rest with the publication of the report by the National Foundation for Educational Research.It shows that large numbers of 14 to 16-year-olds who sample life in college as part of the "increased flexibility" programme have been prevented from dropping out of education after they finish school.

Their enthusiasm for studying is such that 90 per cent decide to stay on after 16. Let's be clear: colleges have succeeded where schools, with better-paid teachers, have failed.

Some of these teenagers have testified to the benefits of finding themselves in an environment where, as they see it, they are treated like adults.

While some who benefit from increased flexibility are vocationally inclined, there are concerns that others are being sent to college because they are "disaffected" - a term that in some cases could be more accurately replaced with a more old-fashioned one: ill-disciplined.

You may think it is a strange system that rewards badly behaved teenagers with the opportunity to be treated as adults, by allowing them to attend college, while leaving those whose school life has been disrupted by their behaviour to continue to be treated as children.

Many of us remember teachers saying, "If you want to be treated like a grown-up, then behave like one".

Has this simple principle been put into reverse? Very possibly, but the debate about school discipline is primarily one for schools.

What is needed now is further research on the possible side-effects of increased flexibility. The NFER study needs to be followed with an investigation into the knock-on effects of increased flexibility on the post-16 students who are the colleges' bread and butter.

Over-16s may also enjoy being treated like adults and the feeling that they are in an institution that is clearly part of the post-compulsory education landscape.

Is this sense of difference reduced by blurring the distinction between colleges and schools? More urgently, the National Union of Students has raised concerns about discipline problems and even violence as a result of the influx of under 16-year-olds.

This creates precisely the kind of atmosphere which many post-16 students thought they had left behind when they made the transition from school to college.

These concerns will be shared by many lecturers who chose FE specifically because they feel more comfortable with older students.

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