The Centre for London, a ‘think tank’ for the English capital, has released an interesting new report on further education in London.
The report finds that further education in London is hampered because:
- It is underfunded: there are more learners in Further Education than in Higher Education in London, but spending on adult education, apprenticeships and other work-based learning for over 18s has fallen by 37 per cent since 2009/10.
- There are not enough learners: the proportion of working age Londoners in Further Education has fallen by over 40 per cent since 2014 – only one in 13 Londoners were in further education in 2019.
- Funding can be restrictive: grants for learners and colleges have been reduced or replaced with loans, and providers continue to be funded by annual contracts based on the number of learners in the previous year.
- Making savings impacts teaching: As of February 2019, 29 per cent of London’s colleges were Ofsted rated as requiring improvement or inadequate, compared to just six per cent of London’s schools.
- Courses are not advanced enough: 99 per cent of learners are taking courses at level 3 or below (equivalent to A-Level) and three quarters at level 2 (equivalent to GCSE) or below.
- There are not enough new apprentices: Despite government investment in apprenticeships, London has half as many apprenticeship starts as the rest of the UK, and many of these new starters are not new to the labour market.
- It has not responded to employers’ needs: the number of learners and apprentices in areas with skills shortages has barely changed since 2014/15.
The fall in the number of learners is worrying, but only to be expected given the sharp fall in funding for FE. Nevertheless a better understanding of what exactly is going on would be further data regarding how many people in London are participating in learning. It is possible that part of the fall is due to people pursuing online programmes, although I doubt that this accounts for all of the shortfall.
I am not convinced by the finding that FE has not responded to employers needs – in the long time I have been involved with vocation education and training employers have always said that (although I suppose it is possible that VET provision has never met employers needs).
The point about courses not being advanced enough is one that I have heard in other parts of the UK. I wonder if it is because it is more expensive to provide more advanced courses, or simply that many learners are not equipped to start on more advanced provision.