Further education colleges should be split into three different types of institutions to accommodate different groups of learners, a new report suggests
The report, Further Consideration, published by think tank EDSK, suggests that there should be three types of colleges: community colleges for basic skills courses, community learning and other entry-level programmes, sixth-form colleges for A levels and other classroom-based level 2 and 3 courses, and technology colleges for vocational and technical training including apprenticeships up to levels 4 and 5.
The report, published ahead of the upcoming FE White Paper, expected later this year, says that in each area of the country, a new “FE director” should be appointed to “make strategic decisions about which courses are available at each college to reduce duplication as well as promoting specialisation among nearby colleges”.
The report calls for the government to set aside a dedicated capital investment fund for FE colleges of £1.5 million and to increase the base rate to £5,000 for 16- to 18-year-olds.
Tom Richmond, director of EDSK and a former adviser to ministers at the Department for Education, said that “bundling every student and course under the single banner of a ‘college’ will never make the FE sector an aspirational choice for young people and adults”.
He said: “Too often, it has led to colleges becoming the option for ‘those who can’t’ rather than making them the highly regarded institutions that are sorely needed across the country.
“By spinning out technology colleges from the rest of their current provision, the FE sector can seize the opportunity to become the centrepiece of our technical education system. Coupled with a significant increase in investment from the government and a greater focus on collaboration over competition, colleges will finally be able to confidently drive economic growth and boost productivity while still supporting their local communities.”
The report also suggests the government should introduce an "individual education budget” for every learner to fund their choice of a university degree, college course or apprenticeship. It says that this should be accompanied by a new “lifetime loan limit” of £75,000 that learners can use at any time to pay for tuition and maintenance support throughout their career.
'Collaboration, partnership and purpose'
Dame Ruth Silver, president of the Further Education Trust for Leadership (FETL), said: “This report takes [the Augar review of post-18 education and funding] and its purpose to frame tertiary education policy for years to come seriously by offering a recipe – in the form of its set of intelligent, mutually dependent proposals – for whole-system reform capable of delivering its promise of a future for FE characterised by collaboration, partnership and purpose.
“The proposals in this report – aimed at delivering greater stability for the sector, more clarity and flexibility for learners and a greater, more dynamic utilisation of the levers of devolution in delivering local priorities – take us in this direction. I have no doubt it will resonate profoundly within the sector. But it is my hope, too, that it will be read widely across the education system, and within Whitehall, and that its thoughtful, far-sighted proposals and provocations will inform much-needed, open debate about the future of FE in England.”