Disaffected young teens thrive on college courses - despite poor teaching. Jon Slater reports
School-college partnerships have encouraged teenagers to stay on in education past the age of 16, inspectors said this week.
Vocational courses for 14 to 16-year-olds in subjects such as car maintenance and hairdressing have proved so popular that the number on the partnership scheme - called the "Increased Flexibility Programme" - has exceeded expectations, says the Office for Standards in Education.
Four out of every five students involved gained vocational qualifications and their attitude and behaviour also improved.
However, the report published this week said the quality of teaching on the programme in schools and colleges is still below that in mainstream key stage 4 school lessons.
And attendance on the courses is a concern, with only 68 per cent of students turning up.
The partnership programme was launched in 2002 to widen opportunities for 14 to 16-year-olds uninspired by the traditional school curriculum.
Ministers hoped it would raise the number of young people who stay on post-16. England's staying-on rate is one of the lowest in the developed world.
Half of secondary schools and three quarters of further education colleges in England are now involved in 14-16 partnerships.
Ofsted said the scheme was meeting its objectives but that more needed to be done to improve teaching.
Work-based training for the students was strongly criticised by inspectors who said one in five lessons was unsatisfactory.
School lessons improved in the second year of the scheme but problems remain and many teachers are unfamiliar with vocational GCSE specifications and lack knowledge of industry.
Teaching in colleges is better, however, due to their emphasis on the vocational application of skills and efforts to train staff to teach 14 to 16-year-olds.
An Ofsted report published last year criticised leadership and management of the partnerships and, although this has improved significantly, inspectors' latest findings show organisation was weak in a quarter of partnerships.
Particular problems included: synchronising the timetables of colleges and schools; and ensuring there were clear progression routes for all students.
In some partnerships students are held back because schools fail to pass on enough information about their achievements to colleges or work-based providers.