Blackpool Sixth Form College’s Peter Wright is in no doubt that the programme he teaches plays a key role in improving his students’ life chances and employment prospects.
It helps to develop skills “that are always going to be -important in any society or successful economy”, he says. His message chimes with the government’s focus on arming young people with the skills and qualifications they need to succeed in the world of work.
But Wright doesn’t teach apprenticeship students. He doesn’t even teach a vocational subject. He is a teacher of A-level classical civilisation.
In many colleges around the country, the government’s focus on ensuring that learners are ready for work – centred on the drive to create 3 million apprenticeships by 2020 – has come at the expense of traditional academic provision.
With budgets increasingly stretched, even colleges with a strong pedigree in academic subjects have been forced to turn their attention to apprenticeships and vocational courses.
According to the Association of Colleges (AoC), the number of enrolments to A-level courses at colleges has fallen almost 15 per cent in five years, from 424,900 in 2011-12 to 362,040 in 2014-15. Among adult learners the drop has been even steeper: A-level enrolments in this group are down 36 per cent over the same period, from 12,460 to 7,930.
“We are going into an era of far more technical courses rather than academic courses,” says David Corke, the AoC’s director of education and skills policy.
“More and more colleges are focusing on outcome-based courses and the government is doing lots of work to take -students into positive destinations. Many providers are much more focused on the routes into work.”
But A-levels are more important than ever, according to Wright, who was recognised for his innovative approach in the classroom when he was named teacher of the year at the TES FE Awards in February.
Traditional subjects such as Classics develop skills like “communication, criticism, research, evaluation and the ability to link complex ideas [and] concepts”, he says.
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