Month: March 2014

2013 Luton Destination Statistics: Less 16 and 17 Year Olds in full time outcomes


Continuing an intermittent series of posts concentrating on the Destination data of Luton school leavers (previous posts here and here), this post looks at the number of 16 & 17 year olds in Luton who were in full time education or employment in December 2013.

At this time 4,940 16 & 17 year olds were known to the Local Authority and of these 88.2% were in full-time outcomes. This is a fall of 3.3% against December 2012 and the only fall in participation in the Eastern Region and compared to a national figure of 89.8%. This regression is also disappointing compared to the positive news across the country as Local Authorities and schools move to comply with the Raising the Participation age legislation.

Of those learners only 1.4% were in an Apprenticeship route, the second lowest in the Eastern Region (behind Southend) which shows that while awareness of this route is growing, the gap between positions sought and those acquired is still huge. 84.1% were still in full-time education.

Delving deeper it’s clear where the fall in participation can be attributed. At 16 both girls and boys show healthy figures for participation (95.8% and 96.6% respectively)  but at 17 something happens and the figures drop to 82.2% for girls and 78.3% for boys. This is the worst 17-year-old boys participation rate in the Eastern Region. There could be a number of reasons for this; students are signing up to unsuitable courses to begin with (aka the Careers advice is poor), the safety nets to stop them dropping out of Key Stage 5 provision are weak or the provisions themselves do not possess the strength to keep them enticed in the first place. It’s a conundrum that needs solving.

Let’s be clear about work experience for under 18s

It’s at this point of the academic year that one of the biggest frustrations of the job is in full effect for me. Namely, the short shift some of our Year 10 students receive when approaching employers about work experience placements due to the insistence that the company doesn’t offer placements to under 18s due to “insurance reasons.”

There seems to be no rhyme or reason between those who accept students, those who decline and the type of workplace environment involved.  Local aircraft engineering companies such as Gulfstream and Monarch go out of their way to offer us fantastic opportunities where students will be properly supervised working around mechanics and heavy equipment while retailers such as JD Sports and PC World decline to engage. Some of those businesses will genuinely believe that there is a special circle of Hell reserved just for the form filling needed to let anyone under the age of 18 into your place of work and some will just use it as a quick excuse (“If we let one do it, then it opens the floodgates!” they say, seemingly oblivious that the world’s 7 billion people aren’t turning up every morning expecting a paycheck despite the fact they do employ at least some of them). For those schools who still commit to providing Key Stage 4 work experience this belief and casual excuse is the biggest threat to securing worthwhile placements for their students. It is part of wider issue covered in-depth recently by the UK Commission for Employment & Skills in their report “Not Just Making Tea” in which they state that “74% of employers claim experience is significant or critical when recruiting young people. But despite the high demand for experience, just 27% of employers offer young people the chance to gain work experience.”

As Careers folk, we must shout this louder.

There are no “special insurances” that are needed to offer work experience to under 18s.

Under health and safety law, work experience students are your employees. You treat them no differently to other young people you employ.

There is no onerous mountain of paperwork to be conquered.

Schools and colleges or others organising placements need to check the employer has risk management arrangements in place. Conversations between the placement organiser and the employer could simply be noted for reference.

In fact, the Government have paid special attention to make this all as clear and straight forward as possible so that work experience could realistically be one of the core components of the 16-19 Study Programmes.

Judith Hackitt, Chair of the Health and Safety Executive, said

There is no need for lots of paperwork or an over-cautious approach. Employers who are already managing the risks in their business effectively for employees are unlikely to need to do anything in addition for work experience. Schools and colleges just need to ask a few questions to ascertain that appropriate measures are in place. There is no need to conduct their own risk assessments

And, always remember, that the aims of work experience are fully supported by leading Business groups who want schools to engage with these sort of schemes.

Here is the official HSE leaflet you could print and distribute to your students and parents and use yourself when approaching employers.

Of course, some businesses will have had a poor experience in the past with a student, or won’t feel there are suitable tasks for a young person and some simply won’t be sure they have the capacity to properly supervise the student and, when they explain why they don’t offer placements, I listen, I try to encourage them to reconsider, I leave my contact details and (hopefully, however small) at least a moment of consideration to the idea. But at least they explain their reasoning and it’s based on experience and reality. Not a false idea of a barrier that doesn’t even exist. However long the journey may be to persuade more employers that this is indeed the case, we can do some of the legwork to persuade, cajole and engage.

School Governors and the CEIAG statutory duty

September 2014 Update:

In the interest of completeness and to attempt to put all of the relevant guidance on this blog, here is the mention of Careers guidance in the School Governors’ Handbook updated in January 2014.

(page 38)

3.2 Careers guidance
Maintained schools must secure access to independent and impartial careers guidance
on the full range of education or training options, including apprenticeships. This
requirement applies to pupils in years 8-13. Funding agreements for academies which
opened from September 2012 onwards generally include an equivalent careers
requirement. We have written to all academies which opened before September 2012 to
encourage them to take on the requirement. The governing body must reassure itself that
the requirement to secure careers guidance from an external source, in the form that best
meets the needs of their pupils, is being met. Schools must have regard to statutory
guiance (sic) underpinning the duty, which makes it clear that links with employers are
particularly important in securing careers provision that inspires young people to consider
a broader range of options.

The oversight that Governors give to their schools work in this area fits with the inclusion of the Ofsted focus on Careers in the Quality of Leadership and Management section of their inspections and places the onus on Careers Leaders in schools and their nominated Governors to meet at appropriate times in the academic year to discuss  and evaluate provision and outcomes (those destinations stats).

CEIAG in Labour’s Skills Taskforce Policy Review

Released today was a document that sets the recommendations for 14-19 education that the Labour shadow cabinet will consider when writing their 2015 election manifesto. It has a substantial section dedicated to CEIAG for this age group at point 4.2

There are 3 final recommendations:

6) A responsibility on schools to track the destinations of all students, and an element

funding conditional on passing learners onto the next stage of their education or
training post-16
(7) LEPS to broker high quality and independent Information Advice and Guidance (IAG)
locally, working with schools and employers, supported by funding withheld from
schools who fail to secure a next step in education or training for their pupils
(8) A new statutory responsibility for schools and colleges to collaborate with one
another to share resources, build opportunities for young people and deliver a
comprehensive upper secondary framework, including a Tech Bacc for vocational

Initial Thoughts

The Careers community that has been so aghast with the Coalition’s policy in this area that removes Careers guidance professionals from the equation and relies solely on the input from Business will find much heart from the paragraphs that maintain the importance of independent IAG input. The reliance on NEET outcomes to maintain funding does cause me a pause as individual school NEET statistics are volatile (percentages can be based on very small numbers of individuals by school). A check on the attendance of ex students on 1st November could gain very different results from exactly the same check carried out two weeks later. The NEET population isn’t a stagnant blob of youngsters, learners are constantly moving off and into training, learning or employment outcomes so it would need to be measured in a considered way not for it to be open to manipulation. The LEPs idea will please the Association of Colleges as it closely resembles their “careers hub” proposal.

Micheal Gove speech 03/03/2014 on Careers

In a wide-ranging speech today Micheal Gove again trailed the forthcoming updated careers guidance:

We also need business to provide more opportunities for students to learn about the world of work directly from those who can speak with enthusiasm and passion about their companies and careers.

For young people reflecting on which career path to follow no information is as valuable, no inspiration so powerful as the testimony of those at the front line of business. That is why the new careers guidance produced by my colleague Matt Hancock is all about cutting out the middle man and getting inspirational speakers in front of students to spark their ambitions. Students can’t aspire to lives they’ve never known. So we need business people to visit schools, engage and inspire.

Initiatives like Robert Peston’s Speakers for Schools and Miriam González Durántez’s Inspiring the Future: Inspiring Women are superb models. But every business should be engaging with its local schools and colleges – offering speakers and competing to inspire the next generation.

Which reinforces the message that Careers work in schools should be purely about brokering collaboration with business.

He did have some good points on work experience though:

And that inspiration should feed through directly to the offer of work experience.

I know that some companies have been reluctant to offer, or maintain, work experience because of the bureaucracy, risks and costs associated with it.

Offer a young person your time, interest and access to your workplace and you can then find yourself worrying about arcane, confusing and unnecessary regulatory burdens.

We’ve already started to sort out this nonsense. Last year the Health and Safety Executive stripped away unnecessary health and safety rules, the Home Office removed the need for criminal checks on employers offering under-18s work experience, the insurance industry – at the government’s request – confirmed that young people on work experience will be covered by employers’ liability insurance, and the Department for Education introduced new funding rules that encourage schools and colleges to arrange post-16 work experience. We’ve changed the law so that for most businesses, so long as you behave reasonably, you have discharged all your duties under health and safety legislation.

Soon, there will be no excuse for any company to decline to offer young people proper work experience.

Which, to someone in the midst of attempting to organise placements for a year 10 group, is bliss to my ears. Still too many businesses are hiding behind fabricated rules and regulations and imposing arbitrary minimum age requirements that, to the young person, feels like a door slamming in their face before they’ve even had a chance to impress.

A summary of the Barnfield investigation findings and background

The Investigation

The BBC 3 Counties radio reporter Paul Scoins gained a leaked version of the Skills Funding Agency report and broadcast the findings on the morning of February 18th with a follow up story on the BBC website.

Mr Scoins had earlier reported on the testimony (given with condition of anonymity) of ex teachers at the Federation’s Academies which accused Senior Managers of pressuring teaching staff to spoon fee students.

In the interim before the full reports publication, the Federation appointed Dame Jackie Fisher as interim CEO.

The actual Education Funding Agency report was released on the 28th February (a Friday) after Hertfordshire police confirmed they would not be investigating the findings and detailed the following misdemeanors:

  • Financial reports of the Academies were not submitted in time or individually as required
  • Annual General Meetings were not held in a suitable timeframe
  • There was no formal Service Level Agreement that formally agreed the shared services between the Federation company specifically set up to do this and it’s Academies and that the total cost of these services, some £3.5m of the Academies budgets in 13/14 was not considered value for money and set at above market rates. The overpay of £725,000 has been credited back to the Academies from the College but, as this agreement was in place for many years, a considerable sum was probably overpaid for these services
  • There were conflicts of interest in procurement of services from companies outside the Federation
  • That the College had claimed £18,144.97 from the EFA for short courses attended by Sixth Form students from the Barnfield Academies which should have been claimed (and now will be) from the Academies
  • The College had claimed £941,000 for learners in both the Adults skills and 16-18 provision which it could not prove attended the guided learning hours stipulated
  • That the 3 support companies set up by the Federation to oversee the Colleges and the Academy’s (Barnfield Education Partnership Trust, Barnfield Acadmies Trust and Barnfield Education Services) were complex enough to lead to conflict of interests, increased salaries for Board members without proper oversight or approval from the correct committee and breaches of Charity regulation
  • Marble plaques totaling £2,124 where purchased for each Academy to commemorate the Knighting of the Director General
  • Plaques totaling £5,790 were purchased by each Academy after the resignation of the Director General in May 2013
  • An annual staff celebration event was held costing £20,000 in 2013 and £25,000 in 2011/12 with £7,200 of these costs recouped from private sponsorship. A total of £3,127 was spent on alcohol at these events.
  • That credit cards for staff to use had a cost of “between £5,000 and £17,000 a month.”
  • The College was potentially attempting to manipulate success rates (para 81) which will be raised with Ofsted for further clarification
  •  That the College will also need to pay back £350,000 to the Skills Funding Agency of which £40,000 relates to College staff taking courses that should not have been claimed for
  • That, on resigning, the Director General was given an Audi Q5, a months holiday pay and two (undisclosed) cash sums which he neither requested or was contractually obligated to

Overall it concluded the “review has found evidence of significant financial irregularity together with breaches of the Academies Financial Handbook, the Funding Agreement, Charity Commission regulation and the Companies Act 2006.”

The KPMG investigation report was also released. In addition to the above it noted:

  • The College posted a deficit of £7.3m at the end of the 2013 financial year
  • £450,000 was lost with the closing of the Harpenden Hair Academy site
  • Construction and enabling works to the New Bedford Road site have been halted thus incurring a write down of £800,000

On the same day, Sir Peter released a statement in response to the findings.

Going Forward

Also on the 28th were released 3 financial notice to improve letters, one to the Barnfield Academies Trust, one to Moorlands Free School and one to the Barnfield Skills Academy Trust each with their own requirements to improve, timescales by which to submit plans and notification of further EFA visits to check progress.

The final piece of the paperwork jigsaw was a summary letter from Lord Nash and Minister Hancock summarising the assessment of the FE Commissioners findings of his visit to the College with its own requirements on the College to alter its structure and leadership and consider a vision for the future to be submitted before the end of March 2014.


The investigation covers the period while Sir Peter Birkett was the CEO of the Federation. During his tenure he was awarded a Knighthood in 2012 for his services to the “Further Education and Academy Movement” and name checked by in speeches by Michael Gove for his leadership achievements. Incidentally the Barnfield Skills Academy mentioned in that speech has also recently incurred the wrath of Lord Nash for it’s poor performance in last summer’s results. His tenure also saw the downgrading of the College by Ofsted to Satisfactory in September 2012 and the downgrading of Barnfield South Academy to “Requires Improvement” in May 2013. South Academy immediately launched an appeal against the rating which, presumably, was unsuccessful as the 3 rating still stands.

For this service to the public of Luton Mr Birkett was remunerated to the tune of £193,000 with £15,000 in benefits in 2010/11. (April 2014 edit – data released this month shows that Mr Birkett’s basic salary in 2012/2013 was £228,000). He left his role at the Federation  in July 2013 to take up a role at the multinational education company and newly approved UK academy sponsor, GEMS as their CEO and was soon attending seminars with the likes of ex-President Bill Clinton. However this was short lived as he left suddenly on the 3rd December 2013 so to stop the investigation becoming an “undue distraction” for his new company. Still, the Federation has also continued to impress outsiders as they won “Best Academy Chain” in the 2013 Education Investor Awards. This though, didn’t stop the Federation losing the next two secondary academies they attempted to sponsor, first due the decision of Puttteridge High school’s Governors and then by the DfE rejecting their half completed sponsorship of Sandy Upper School.

Soon after news of the investigation broke through the local media Sir Peter released a statement.

Luton needs an outstanding FE College

Most importantly, all of this does not in any way help the current school leavers of Luton who would benefit greatly from a vibrant, energised FE route in the town. Across the 12 High schools in the Authority there is only one with an established Sixth Form and the two, recently opened, other school based Sixth Forms are in academies run by the Federation. This means a the large majority of the town’s youth move educational establishments at 16 and those offering quality routes and a good local reputation should enroll healthy numbers. Yet the most recent set of town wide destination data shows the number of students enrolling in FE Colleges each year has fallen from 1026 in 2008 to a low of 808 in 2012. Consider this against a backdrop where nearly 50% of students from both of the Federation sponsored Academies now move onto the FE route then you can see just how far the College’s stock has fallen among the youth of the town.

Luton Council is currently pushing through a range of upgrades to local infrastructure and transport links and promoting the town as a location for businesses to establish themselves. While striving to improve employment and investment prospects for the area they should be mindful that these companies will need a local skills base on which to draw. Nationally, there is an expectation on the FE sector from Ministers to be drivers of local enterprise and skills which will assist in the economic recovery. A revitalized Barnfield, able to move on from this investigation, would not only benefit young people but also support the future economic prospects of the area and I wish it every luck and support in success in those goals.