One of colleges’ biggest complaints in recent years has been the difficulty of gaining access to young people in local schools to tell them about the vocational and technical pathways available after GCSE.
A new survey by the Association of Colleges (AoC), carried out in partnership with TES, lifts the lid on the extent of college leaders’ concerns. Some 110 principals – about a third of those in England – took part in the survey, and the vast majority said they were not given full access to young people in local schools to inform them about the opportunities on offer.
Just one in 10 principals (11 per cent) said they were given comprehensive access to school students to explain about education and training provided in FE.
More than a fifth (21 per cent) said they were given only limited access in most local schools, with 68 per cent reporting a mixed picture, depending on the school in question.
Strong action needed
The new figures have been published weeks after education secretary Nicky Morgan announced a plan to force state schools to allow college staff and other apprenticeship providers to visit as part of careers advice from the early secondary stage.
Last month, skills minister Nick Boles said that the government was considering imposing financial penalties on school sixth forms that signed students up to inappropriate A levels.
Martin Doel, chief executive of the AoC, said that the figures revealed why the government deemed it necessary to take strong action. The current lack of access wasn’t down to colleges being unwilling to engage with the schools sector, he argued.
“Schools want to retain the students for their own sixth forms. One of the ways in which they can do that is limiting the access to those young people for providers,” he said.
Graham Razey, principal of East Kent College, said that the advice and guidance offered by schools in his area was often focused on A-level routes. “We are having to find other ways to get our message across to young people and their parents,” he added. “I would like to think it isn’t self-interest [from schools] and that the young person’s future is paramount to everyone. But there are a lot of young people doing A levels who do not last the two years.
“[Schools] are increasingly asking teachers to be careers advisers, and it is really hard for them to be aware of everything.”
Truro and Penwith College principal David Walrond said indications from the thousands of students applying to the college annually showed that knowledge of vocational and technical routes, and other alternatives to A levels, was limited. “By and large, their understanding is not good, and it is declining,” he added.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said that the government planned to “bring forward legislation at the earliest opportunity that will require schools to allow other education and training providers the opportunity to talk to pupils about their offer on school premises”.
Schools would be “required by law to collaborate with colleges, university technical colleges and other training providers in putting that guidance in place”, a spokesperson added.
Low confidence in area reviews
The survey also assessed how college leaders viewed the area reviews taking place across England. About two-thirds of principals did not feel that the process was being well managed, while only 2 per cent were “very confident” in it.
Some 78 per cent highlighted concerns that schools with sixth forms weren’t included, while 71 per cent felt the process was too rushed and 53 per cent thought that too many different organisations were involved.
“We share the concerns about how the process is being managed and we continue to make representations about the frayed edges around the process,” Mr Doel said.
Lack of parental awareness
The AoC/TES survey also highlights principals’ concern that a lack of awareness among parents is the most significant barrier to the growth of apprenticeship provision in their college. More than half of those questioned identified this as an issue, while 42 per cent said there was a lack of knowledge among the general public.
Almost half of colleges leaders said there were not enough employers prepared to offer apprenticeships to facilitate growth. Some 44 per cent felt that there was a lack of suitable candidates for the scheme.
In November, skills minister Nick Boles said that he wanted the sector to deliver two-thirds of apprenticeships. However, he said that only 37 per cent of apprenticeship funding would go to colleges this year.
Martin Doel, AoC chief executive, argued that it would take time for apprenticeship opportunities to enter the public consciousness. “We have got a whole generation of parents who went through the school system when apprenticeships did not feature,” he said. “We need to be persistent and protect the quality of the system. We need to tell a compelling story and keep on repeating it and repeating it.”
Graham Razey, principal of East Kent College, said that his institution had doubled its apprenticeship offering in the past year, and was hoping to do so again for 2016-17. “We have no issue finding enough employers wanting to offer apprenticeships. But we are sometimes having not enough young people applying for the apprenticeship vacancies,” he added.
Despite these barriers, 72 per cent of colleges confirmed that they planned to increase the number of apprenticeships on offer for 2016-17.