fe colleges

What would a new careers law solve?

A central voice in the “school careers is rubbish” choir has always been the FE and training provider sector. Seemingly not a week goes by without their spokespeople regaling tales of struggle to tunnel their way under the gun turrets on the school gates, dodging the sharp incisors of the hounds and avoiding the searchlights just to get their prospectus into the grateful hands of vocationally impoverished Year 11s. Okay, so that is a bit OTT but we’ve all heard the stories of FE Colleges requests to speak to students being ignored, careers advisers having to hide prospectuses out of the watchful eye of Sixth Form staff and open evening posters being hidden under school cake sale flyers on noticeboards. All, the FE sector claim, with the overarching aim of keeping more students in school sixth forms to protect funding streams rather than then letting students choose what is best for them and, by extension, the wider economy.

With our halos shining brightly (ahem), Careers practitioners in schools have been at the sharp end of these local politics and funding bottlenecks.

With this in mind, a new careers law has been mooted that will “ensure” that apprenticeships and vocational routes are given equal and prominent airtime as academic routes to students. The world of FE welcomed the move, Martin Doel said,

We have long been calling for an improvement to the system and welcome the changes outlined. Colleges recognise the critical nature of good careers education and will be very keen to continue to work together with their local schools. This announcement will make that a reality.

while Stephen Exley, the editor of TES Further Ed, was positively ecstatic,

It’s about time to crack open the champagne. At long last, the government is prepared to get tough on the “outdated snobbery” towards further education.

Stewart Segal of the Association of Learning and Employment providers used the historically low percentage of 16-18 year olds starting an apprenticeship as a reason to celebrate the mooted new legislation

Statutory guidance for schools followed but the fact remains that only around 6 per cent of school leavers start an apprenticeship and this proportion hasn’t changed for years. We, therefore, called for that statutory guidance to be strengthened.

only for Nick Boles to rain on that particular parade at his appearance at the sub committee hearing into CEIAG

What mystifies me about the reaction to this announcement is that this legislation already exists, and has done for a number of years, as a statutory duty on schools, that is, policies schools are already required to hold by law.

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This possibly reflects on a failure of all involved in the Careers Duty, a failure of Government strategy, of school implementation and Ofsted monitoring, that vocational providers still feel no discernible impact from it.

What difference would any new legislation take? That this “information” must be delivered to students by outside sources (e.g. FE Colleges)? As this article suggests, the age old standard of a careers fair could be the outcome most schools turn to to meet that requirement. Hardly revolutionary and without the “support and funding” that Russell Hobby calls for in that piece, unlikely to deliver the outcomes desired by the FE community.

 

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Revised Careers Guidance for FE and 6th Form Colleges

In the interests of completeness, here is the revised Guidance document “Careers guidance and inspiration – Guidance for general further education colleges and sixth form colleges” that was released yesterday.

For those familiar with the corresponding schools careers guidance the document is much of a muchness with the requirements of the duty for independent guidance on all routes to be provided for students in a number of suitable methods. Case studies highlight different ways of achieving this (including utilising organisations such as Career Academies) and Destination Measures are held up as the  method of accountability. The document then runs through a number of online resources that can help achieve Sixth Forms and Colleges achieve these aims.

 

The hidden pill for schools to swallow in the CEIAG guidance

The updated Careers Guidance has been out for a few weeks now which is long enough for it to be read, digested and (in some cases) spat back out by those with an interest in these things. The initial media coverage concentrated on the clear desire in the document(s) for schools to be much more proactive in their approaches and collaborations with the business community to provide the much vaunted and discussed “inspiration” that will illuminate the clear routes ahead of young people on their paths to success. Or something.

What gained less attention was the inclusion of instructions for schools which, arguably, could require a greater amount of change from them.

The original guidance, published in March 2013, contained the Duty including the highlighted sentence below:

while the expanded and updated Guidance in 2014 contains this whole, much more detailed, section:

The difference between the two excerpts could not be clearer in the detail covered or the expectation placed on schools. Or to be more precise, the expectation placed on Careers leads in schools. We now can’t hide away from the fact that we are the forefront of the growth of the marketplace for students at 14 and our requirements to spread IAG may cause disquiet and unease among colleagues and ripples through our local educational landscape. I would imagine, in most schools,  it’s something that needs airing with all of our Senior Leadership teams explicitly and soon.

The issues Studio schools and UTCs have previously encountered with enrolling students have already been noticed by both the national press and the Ministerial team writing the checks so in response, some of these individual schools have been pushing their marketing boat out with focused, local campaigns whilst being supported by a national presence with substantial PR nous and which herald the positive employability skills gained by their alumni. In some areas, this marketing push hasn’t gone smoothly and, I must admit, I’m surprised there hasn’t been more coverage of localised political shenanigans resulting from these transitions (if I’ve missed any, please let me know in the comments). If I was the Head of a newly or soon to be opened Studio School or UTC I would be sending that second image above to the Heads of all my local secondary schools with an offer to come in and run an assembly. Of course, not all of those offers would result in collaborative work but schools who refuse or ignore those requests are on much more shaky ground should Ofsted arrive and ask the questions they should be asking.

There will be Careers Leads in schools who may be reading this and feel content in the knowledge that a UTC or Studio School is not due to open near their patch. They would be wallowing in the relief that I feel when speaking to Colleagues who work in schools with Sixth Form provisions about the long running and well-known battles had about introducing other routes to students at the 16 transition point. Well, I’d hesitate to feel totally at ease yet because, included in that second image, is the line “opportunities for 14-year-old enrollment at local Colleges” and with the funding squeeze being felt by Post 16 providers it’s not difficult to imagine many more of them looking into establishing provision at 14 to both shore up funding and subsequent enrolment at Level 3. This is an issue coming all our ways.

Some quick thoughts on the new #GCSE reform and post 16 progression

The latest in a tumult of change sweeping through all stages of England’s education system was announced this morning with the Ofqual consultation on which grades in the new GCSEs (1-9, with 9 being the best) will be equal to what grades under the old GCSEs (with the all important for the student C gateway).

A few possible implications regarding how these changes will affect the progression of young people onto the next stages of their learning and how CEIAG staff will have to adapt spring to mind.

So, bearing in mind that these will first be awarded to students in the summer of 2017 in English, English Literature and Maths GCSE only and that the content of the curriculum studied by these students for the 2 year course will have been more challenging than the predecessor and it will have been assessed purely on terminal exams rather than incorporating speaking and listening elements…

1. The proposal that a grade 4 will be equivalent to a grade C from the legacy qualification and a grade 7 will be equivalent to an A – will mean very different things depending on which side of the ‘C’ boundary a child falls. The increased number of grades (6 rather than 4) above the boundary will spread students achieving a “pass” out across these grades and give Sixth Forms and HE more scope to distinguish between higher achieving candidates for both A Level and Russell Group type degrees and between A Level courses even at the same institution, you may see a greater variance in entry requirements (History A Level courses asking for a “7 or above in GCSE History” for example rather a standard 5 or 6 across the other subjects).

For those below the  boundary it will be a different story. More children, to begin with, will be clumped across fewer grades below this raised standard and will therefore have the choice of Post 16 routes restricted. The Dfe believe that improving standards and changes to Key Stage 2 curriculum and tests will raise standards of attainment in the longer term but most people’s first conclusion will be that will see a larger proportion of students each year not have the choice of the full range of pathways open to them. The 4 A Level and higher vocational qualification route will not be possible for as many students as it is now and, because of the rules for English & Maths retakes, more students will see the options that are open to them become more prescribed. I fear there are implications for student motivation here in Key Stage 4 which CEIAG professionals will be at the forefront of addressing.

2. 2017 and 2016 is going to be a dogs dinner for CEIAG workers in Secondary schools – As it will only be new GCSEs in English Language, English Literature and Maths awarded this year, students will open their envelopes on results day to find a grade 1-9 in these qualifications but still be awarded A-G in any other GCSEs they will have taken such as History, Drama, Music etc. Many students will have also studied a L2 BTEC course so receive a Distinction, Merit, Pass or Fail in those subjects.

This will have repercussions as those students go on through the education system and their working lives but also in the long tail of guidance and build up to transition that pre-empt those results. How will Sixth Forms, FE Colleges and Apprenticeships Employers adjust their requirements to reflect this mix of new and old? Will they be able to communicate their requirements to feeder schools early enough so proper IAG can take place? How will these changes interact and impact with the changes to the A Level curriculum and the removal of the AS mid-point? Will Apprenticeship employers react in time to adjust their online application sites or be fully aware of the equivalent grades?

Of course this is still at the consultation stage and the Ofqual documents states that, ultimately, the decision on where the grading falls will be based on the feedback from employers and FE and HE. Meanwhile, for the students and those trying to advise them, there are lots of answers still to come.

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.

Accountability

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.

No good can come of: Online FE applications

Working in a secondary school with no Sixth Form has its benefits for providing independent CEIAG as I would have to be performing whole feats of invention to not be impartial. One of the challenges is that, when they leave at the end of Year 11, they all leave and your preparation and tracking of students to minimise potential NEET risk and ensure suitable progression pathways has to reflect that.

An increasingly common phenomenon that is making  this much more of a task is the move of FE Colleges, Sixth Forms and other providers to only accept online applications through their websites. It must be a very appealing move for them; they are able to both cut the costs of printing hard copies of forms and reassure themselves they are taking steps to appeal to young people by going online.

Set against a backdrop of Raising the Participation Age, Local Authorities struggling to track their 16-18 residents and the pressure on schools to ensure productive destinations for students, this is an unhelpful step for those of us who work in schools.

Hard copies of application forms mean that we can work with students to complete them, we can use the ‘officialness’ of the form to everyone’s benefit when motivating revision weary minds and it means we can track who has applied to what at where and intervene if necessary. I really hope our students don’t apply for 7 A Levels but if I don’t see their application I can’t promise it. I really hope that our students don’t apply for the Level 3 Public Services course without 4 C’s in their predictions but if I don’t see their application I can’t promise it. I really hope they manage to apply in time and by seeing their application I can promise this.

The obvious push back from the FE sector already severely concerned about school IAG will be that none of the above happens anyway so what difference will it make. There isn’t much of a concrete, data based rebuttal I can give to that other than to plead for more time for schools to begin to grasp their new responsibilities with this work. However this transition conundrum is solved, it will require partnership and collaboration from different education providers that relies as little as possible on hard pressed Local Authorities who will be braced for the full storm of austerity to come. Where ever the fault lines run for current any disconnects between schools and FE providers, removing the major part of the transition equation we do have the potential to assist with won’t help.

The disconnect between young people and vocational routes

As long as can be remembered by anyone who takes notice of such things , Post 16 vocational routes have always been perceived by UK students and parents as the B road to travel on, the slow lane to success, the ITV Tactics truck to Gary Neville on Monday Night Football.

After involving myself in recent Twitter exchange about this phenomenon…

I spent a bit of time thinking about why that might be and, I concluded once my head started to hurt, there are lots of answers. But it’s the first of my tweets I wanted to concentrate on here.

From a young person’s standpoint taking the chance to pin your future on a vocational route is pretty scary. There are lots of seemingly unknown parts of the puzzle you have to factor in, it’s a web of maybes and possibles that lead to less certain outcomes like applying for jobs or apprenticeships then the welcoming to all ‘Uni.’ Meanwhile, their peers have chosen four distinct areas of A Level study which are usually recognisable from school subjects, they know what they need to get to be accepted, their parents approve of it and they have the comforting safety blanket of University waiting for them at the other end.

There’s some recent evidence that has captured this nervousness about this lack of clarity. Britain Thinks released “(Ex)Aspiration Nation: A study on the aspirations and expectations of young people and their parents”

http://britainthinks.com/sites/default/files/090713%20Aspiration%20Report%20FINAL%202.pdf

and part of the problem is captured in their focus group results. Page 36 shows how they have grouped individuals into either ‘Optimists’ or Pessimists’ dependent on the number of barriers they believe they will have to overcome to achieve success in their future. Just look at how the Pessimists define themselves on page 38, 53% describe themselves as more practical than academic (compared to 39% of Optimists) and 61% didn’t realise the impact their subject choices aged 14 had on their career path (compared to only 28% of Optimists).

This shows that the very students that should be enthused about the wide range of vocational routes on offer to them, aren’t, and they see many more obstacles to overcome because of this preference. Combine this with the general anxiety about the job prospects in the future and you are left with a dispiriting mix. Many of those Pessimists have reached the conclusion that academic learning is not a strength and yet the alternative does not seem to inspire confidence either. It is difficult to unpick causation and correlation here and see how these results feed into the wider societal view of vocational learning but really that doesn’t concern me. What concerns me is how to change this mindset of young people.

We all know fantastic examples of FE College outreach and collaborative working with High Schools but this needs to be improved to show with much more clarity how the courses and qualifications on offer fit with entry to workplace sectors. Taster sessions and VQdays are excellent but more immersion seems to be needed. The introduction of Learning Pathways should increase the amount of employer interaction for learners and help demystify the world of work that become accessible from the FE route, this needs to cascade down to Pre 16 learners. The expectation for the FE sector to work with Local Enterprise Partnerships should encourage more employers to become involved in the sector thus providing clarity on job roles and routes into those roles. And finally, the new rules allowing Colleges to enroll students at 14 should be utilised by outstanding providers to help spread the word through the peer group of the success possible through vocational routes. Liaising and organising this work between schools and FE to promote the very best of vocational learning is another responsibility that the CEIAG leader in schools should embrace.