Might FE colleges help educate 14-19 year olds


Most FE colleges currently work with 14- to 16-year-olds on a part-time basis.

The Association of Colleges (AoC) argues that all colleges should be able to admit young people full-time, a view echoed in the Liberal Democrats’ election manifesto. The 157 group, which represents 27 of the most influential colleges in England, has also said 14-year-olds should have the opportunity to attend college full-time if they wish

John Ruderman, who co-ordinates the 14-16 provision at City of Bristol College, thinks it could work. He told the Guardian a couple of weeks ago  that “Young people who think they’ve outgrown or can’t deal with the ‘strictness’ of school often become disruptive, disaffected or simply switch off. College can be good for that kind of student.” But there is a precondition. According to Ruderman, giving all 14- to 16-year-olds the opportunity to study at college full-time could only work if students had access to impartial careers advice and guidance, which many in the sector feel has been lacking under the  last r government, whose Connexions service has focused resources on the most disadvantaged young people. The Tories have also criticised the quality of careers advice on offer and want  a universal service that is professional , independent and impartial, something that David Willetts the Higher Education and Skills Minister is particularly  keen on. The advice in schools is  seen to be too inconsistent.

“A radical rethink of the whole system” would also be needed, Ruderman  says. Under current 14-16 partnerships between schools and colleges, the student remains on the school roll. If young people were given the option to attend college full-time, this could have a devastating effect on school roll numbers and – crucially – funding.” Quite.

Schools currently  have a finacicial incentive to advise pupils to stay on, whether it is in their interests or not. So much for impartial advice.



  1. FE Colleges are not homogenous beasts. At their core is vocational education for 16-19. Then there are full-time adults doing vocation courses. Plus professional part-time students, mainly in the evening. Plus part-time adults doing recreational courses, many pensioners. Plus increasingly full- and part-time HE students, mainly but no longer wholly mature students. Some have quite significant international intakes. Increasingly they have also catered for 14-16 year olds on day release from school. The ability of an FE College to teach 14-16 year olds full-time will depend on the individual College. The strengths, layout and physical facilities and the skills of the support services need to be considered alongside the attraction of extra funding that these students will bring. A classroom full of disaffected 14 year olds does not always sit happily with pensioners next door doing a craft course and business students preparing for their accountancy exams in the room opposite. Of course, that is a caricature – to some extent. But too many recent FE initiatives have been driven by the attraction of expansion and extra funding streams, rather than the benefits to students themselves. FE Colleges are themselves best placed to judge what and who they are suited to teach. A one size fits all approach in this sector is a dangerous thing. FE is, in many ways, the unsung hero of the education sector, increasingly having to be cradle to grave community educator often for lower fee income than local schools or Universities. But there is a danger they try to be all things to all people and lose their focus. And a community without a strong local FE College is a very poor community indeed.

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