Issue 116 | April 2021

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On 31 March, Sir Richard Atkins stepped down as FE Commissioner for England after four years in post. He has been replaced by Shelagh Legrave OBE, who has been appointed on a two-year contract in the first instance. Ms Leagrave is currently Chief Executive of the Chichester College Group, which is comprised of Chichester, Crawley and Brinsbury colleges. She is also a member of the Coastal West Sussex Partnership Board. She will take up her new post in October and until then the position will be filled on an interim basis by Frances Wadsworth, one of the six Deputy FE Commissioners. Ms Leagrave will lead a team of 18 deputies and FE advisors to initiate and implement college intervention strategies whenever this is thought to be necessary. A copy of the DfE announcement of Ms Leagrave’s appointment can be found here.


Ofsted ceased all inspection activity in England in March 2020 because of the pandemic. As the rate of infections eased in the autumn of 2020, Ofsted resumed interim visits to new providers and progress monitoring visits to providers graded requires improvement or inadequate. These were subsequently cancelled as Coronavirus infections increased and a further lockdown was imposed, leading Ofsted to announce that that full graded inspections would not resume until this September. However, the rate of infection has now fallen again and, in the 26 April edition of its Covid-19 Rolling Update (see here), Ofsted has announced that it intends to resume face-to-face monitoring visits to existing providers graded requires improvement or inadequate from 4 May and that that full inspections of new providers will resume in the summer term.

Ofsted says that inspection methods used during these visits will consider the disruption and challenges caused by the pandemic and a grade will not be given. However, where inspection evidence strongly suggests that an institution’s current grade is no longer a fair reflection of its work, inspectors will be able to convert the visit to a full graded inspection either immediately or later in the term. Colleges and other providers will be able to request a deferral but will need to provide a good reason for this. (See here for more details of the new inspection arrangements). Ofsted also says that it is working closely with the recently appointed Education Recovery Commissioner for England, Sir Kevan Collins, on how its work can support longer-term education recovery in the FE and skills sector.


On 19 April Ofsted published an updated Education Inspection Framework for schools, FE and skills providers and early years settings (see here for a copy). Ofsted has also published an updated FE and skills handbook, a copy of which can be found here. A summary of the main changes in the updated handbook can be found here.


More than 11,000 allegations of sexual harassment and abuse have been posted on the ‘Everyone’s Invited’ website (see here), on which students can anonymously report and share their experiences. Most of the allegations made on the website refer to sexual harassment and abuse carried out against young women by young men at their school, college, or university. Ofsted now says that it will visit schools and colleges where such incidents have been reported. Ofsted Chief Executive, Amanda Spielman, is said to have been deeply troubled by the posts on the website.

In response to a DfE request, Ofsted will be conducting a review into safeguarding policies and practices on sexual abuse to help determine whether current safeguarding guidance is sufficiently well understood by schools and colleges and allows them to respond effectively to allegations. The review will also examine whether schools and colleges need extra support in teaching students about sex and relationships, and if the current inspection regime is robust enough to identify and deal with the issue of sexual abuse. In addition, the review will consider how effectively schools and colleges are working with local multi-agency safeguarding partners to address issues raised. The review will not highlight individual cases but will focus on the identification of serious and widespread failures in safeguarding arrangements that will trigger an immediate full inspection. The review is due to be completed by the end of May. The terms of reference for the review can be found here.


In the summer of 2020, GCSE and A-Level grades level grades were initially determined by teacher assessed grades (now referred to as TAGs). These were then standardised using an algorithm, which in England was designed by Ofqual. As was the case in other UK countries, the standardisation process in England resulted in many students’ grades being lower than those predicted by their teachers. This resulted in high profile mass student protests and parents expressing their outrage to the point where, one by one, each UK country abandoned their algorithms. Ministers apologised to students and parents, and the grades awarded reverted back to those given by teachers. In England, this led to the resignation of both the Chief Executive and the Chair of Ofqual. It also led to average A-Level grades awarded in the summer of 2020 being 12% higher than in the summer of 2019 and the average GCSE grade being 9% higher, rates of increase that have since been described as ‘statistically improbable’.

At the end of March, the Chair of the House of Commons Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon, wrote to Gavin Williamson, the Secretary of State for Education in England, seeking assurances on behalf of Committee members that there would not be ‘…a Wild West in grading’ this year (a phrase that some think could equally be applied to degree grades awarded by some universities in England). Ever increasing grade inflation, said Mr Halfon, would ‘…have absolutely no benefit or value to anyone, and especially not to students in the long term’. A copy of Mr Halfon’s letter to Mr Williamson can be found here. Meanwhile, Ofqual has said schools and colleges should keep records of incidents where parents ‘with pointy elbows and lawyer friends’ have attempted to pressurise teachers into giving their children higher grades, as this could be regarded as malpractice.


In the wake of the second Coronavirus lockdown the DfE decided that, as in the summer of 2020, exams in England should not go ahead this summer and that student performance in their GCSEs and A-Levels should once again be graded by teacher assessment based on student performance across a range of evidence. The use of TAGs has now been formally incorporated by Ofqual into a new General Qualifications Alternative Awarding Regulatory Framework (GQAARF). For a copy see here. Learning from the problems encountered last year, the GQAARF itself was only agreed after a substantial number of positive responses to an Ofqual consultation held in February were received (see here).

Since then, awarding organisations (AOs) have worked closely with schools and colleges and with Ofqual and the DfE to ensure that TAGs are awarded as fairly and as objectively as possible. Based on this collaborative work, earlier this month the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), which represents AOs, published further advice and guidance for schools and colleges on how the GQAARF should be applied in determining GCSE and A-Level exam grades this summer, including:

  • Advice for schools and colleges on completing their centre policy. (The centre policy outlines the internal processes individual schools and colleges will adopt to internally standardise and quality assure their TAGs, in order to ensure consistency, fairness, and objectivity).
  • Guidance for teachers on how they should determine grades, including advice on how evidence should be collected.
  • Information to support internal quality assurance, for example, the provision of data on centre performance in previous years.
  • How external AO quality assurance will be conducted, including the circumstances under which centres might expect virtual or face-to-face quality assurance visits from AOs.

The preface to JCQ guidance says that teachers are best placed to assess the standard their students are performing at, and that they understand that it will not benefit a student if they are awarded a grade that puts them onto a course or into a role for which they are ill-equipped. The guidance then goes on to say that:

  • Teachers will base their judgement on the standard of a students’ performance on a range of evidence, which could include mock exams, and non-exam assessment such as coursework and assessments carried out in class. Teachers will make the initial judgements on grades and these will then be subject to internal quality assurance within the school or college. Grades will need to be signed off by the head of centre (usually the headteacher or principal) before they are submitted to the AO. (On 27 April, Ofqual published further updated information for teachers and heads of centre on this, a copy of which can be found here).
  • Students will only be assessed on content that they have been taught. This means that students who have missed more teaching than others will be assessed on a narrower range of content. Where a school or college believes that a student has suffered a misfortune that might have affected their performance (for example, a family bereavement or long-term illness), there will be scope to make reasonable adjustments to grades. However, there will be no negotiation on the evidence used to determine the grades.
  • Schools and colleges can choose to use past exam questions, externally set tests and other approaches to generating evidence. Students should be told in advance by their school or college what evidence is going to be used to determine their grades, after which they will be given the opportunity to raise any valid concerns. This is to provide transparency for students, parents, guardians, and others on how the student’s grade has been arrived at.
  • AOs will provide schools and colleges with a range of materials to assist teachers in the determination of grades. These materials will include questions used in past papers and marking schemes. Questions that might be used in assessments will be published and made available to students in advance to ensure fairness to all students, including private candidates.
  • Although teachers will share with students how grade judgements will be made, and which pieces of their work will be used in the grading process prior to submission to AOs in June, students will not find out the actual grades they have been awarded until they are published by the AO in August.
  • AOs will carry out external quality assurance by reviewing the overall approach being taken by each school or college. They will, for example, select a sample of centres and review a sample of the grading judgements made. Schools and colleges will be more likely to be subject to a review and have their grading judgements amended by AOs if their results in 2021 are considerably higher or lower than in 2017, 2018 and 2019. Further information for schools and colleges on the process for the external quality assurance of TAGs this summer can be found on the Ofqual blog site here.
  • Students will be able to appeal their grade if they believe an administrative error has been made, or if they think the grade they have received is not a fair reflection of the standard of their work. Appeals will be considered first by their school or college and, if not resolved, will be submitted to the AO by schools and colleges on behalf of the student. On 21 April Ofqualpublished a consultation document on further guidance for dealing with appeals to help AOs comply with GQAARF requirements this year. Details of the consultation, which ends on 5 May, can be found here.

A copy of the full JCQ guidance on TAGs, the development of Centre Policies, information for students, their parents and guardians and general information for exam centres can be found here.


JCQ has published similar guidance on summer 2021 exam arrangements and the use of TAGs in vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs). BTECs and other applied general qualification grades will be determined by a similar arrangement to that for A-Levels and GCSEs above. Arrangements for other VTQs are more varied and complex, but guidance can be found on the JCQ VTQ summer materials website here.


Further to the DfE’s updated guidance on Functional Skills assessments published on 6 April (see here), the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB) has published further guidance on the use of TAGs as part of the overall assessment of functional skills. The FAB says this guidance has been agreed by all functional skills AOs but acknowledges that how each AO operates may differ and that each will produce its own guidance, although this will closely follow the guidance given in the FAB and Ofqual documents. Also, within this flexibility, the FAB guidance says that all AOs will be required to adopt the same six overarching principles. These are as follows:

  • Live testing will continue as the preferred method of assessment for functional skills. This testing could take place face-to-face or using adaptations such as being delivered remotely or could be delayed.
  • Centres must investigate all live testing, adaptation, and delay options before approaching their AO with an application to use TAGs for determining functional skills grades. Centres also will need to provide evidence that all other options have been explored and exhausted.
  • TAGs should only be requested when centres can clearly demonstrate individual learners are assessment-ready but are unable to access an assessment safely. Centres should not request to submit TAGs for whole cohorts.
  • Functional skills TAG arrangements must comply with Ofqual’s GQAARF. Only learners that the centre expected to be entered for assessment between 1 August 2020 and 31 August 2021 will be deemed to be eligible for TAGs.
  • Learner eligibility will ultimately be determined by the AO, in line with DfE policy requirements.
  • Centres must retain evidence of both a learner’s eligibility and what has been used to support any TAG judgements, as this may subsequently be requested for review by AOs.

A copy of the FAB guidance on the use of TAGs for Functional Skills assessment can be found here.


In March, Ofqual published a consultation on arrangements for an autumn 2021 exam series (see here for a copy). The consultation invited respondents’ views on such things as whether to hold a full autumn exam series for GCSEs and A levels with no advance topics given to students, opening the exams up to all students (including those without a TAG), marking students only on their exam performance (and not coursework), the carry forward of coursework grades, the timing of exams and the timing of the publication of results.

The Association of Colleges (AoC) response to the consultation cut through all of this and simply said that a full autumn exam series should not be held at all this year. The AoC argued that this was because an autumn exam series would be a ‘…costly and unnecessary diversion for students, centres, and awarding organisations’ and that ‘…given the arrangements being put in place to grade all candidates, including private candidates, this summer, there is even less of a case for an autumn series in 2021 than there was in 2020’. The AoC’s argument is supported by the fact that the 2020 autumn series attracted just 1% of GCSE summer entries and 2% of summer A-Level entries. The AoC response to the Ofqual consultation can be found here.


A survey conducted by the Institute for Directors last month has revealed that only 10% of the 600 businesses that responded to the survey say they will be offering placements to students on T-Level programmes next academic year. Seven new T-Level routes are scheduled to be introduced in 2021/22, each of which requires a minimum 315 hours work placement, but employers say that the pressures of recovering from the pandemic and likely future changes in working practices, such as more at-home and on-line working will reduce opportunities for them to provide the placements needed. Many providers have already deferred T-Level work placements for the current cohort of students until the second year of their course (in 2021/22) in the hope that more businesses will be able to offer placements by then. The government is now being called on to introduce financial incentives for employers to provide placements, not only for T-Levels but also for other programmes that require substantial work experience placements such as apprenticeships, traineeships, and the Kickstart scheme.


To help alleviate the additional challenges the introduction of T-Levels has faced during the pandemic, a new All Party Parliamentary Group has been formed to support and champion the new qualifications. The person behind the formation of the new APPG is Damian Hinds, who oversaw the development of T-Levels when he was Education Secretary for England between January 2018 and July 2019. Current APPG rules mean that Apprenticeships and Skills Minister for England, Gillian Keegan, is not allowed to join the group but she was present at the inaugural meeting on 27 April. Other MPs and peers who have joined the group include former Labour Education Secretaries David Blunkett and Estelle Morris, and Education Select Committee members Ian Mearns, Jonathan Gullis and Christian Wakeford.

For information, APPGs are informal groups made up of MPs and Lords that focus on specific policy issues. External organisations typically fund the secretariat for an APPG, but last October this practice was subject of an inquiry by Committee on Standards following concerns expressed about the transparency and appropriateness of this funding (see here). Contributions towards the funding for the new T-Level APPG will come from the Education and Training Foundation (which itself, in 2020/21 received almost £25.6 million of public funding from the DfE, see here), the Gatsby Foundation, and the engineering multinational AECOM.


On 19 April, the Education and Training Foundation (ETF) launched two new online modules to ‘…support FE principals in challenging times’. The new modules are called ‘Building Your Digital Strategy’ and ‘Risk and Strategic Leadership’. The modules are funded by the DfE and are the latest in the series of ETF online development programmes intended to provide principals with support and technical guidance on key issues such as finance, data, and risk management. The two new modules join two earlier modules in the series on ‘Financial Sustainability’ and ‘Using Data to Drive a Performance Culture’. The ‘Building Your Digital Strategy’ module examines the increased reliance on technology during the pandemic and explores how to make best use of technology in delivering learning and improving college business systems. The ‘Risk and Strategic Leadership’ module looks at best practice in managing risk to enable advantage to be taken of opportunities as they arise while protecting financial stability. Further details are available here.


In October 2020, the DfE announced that the ETF would be funded to ‘review the capability’ of 30 college boards in England. These would be referred to the ETF by the ESFA or the FE Commissioner as those being in most need of support (although colleges are allowed put themselves forward for a review). The reviews were initially intended to be completed by 31 March this year and thus far, around 25 college boards have either had a review of their effectiveness completed or are still in the process of being reviewed. Earlier this month the ESFA announced the reviews would be extended into the summer term, and that the numbers participating would be increased, based on factors such as a recent self-assessment that indicates the need for such a review, a recent change in leadership, a period of structural change or other new challenges that require the college to take stock. More information on ETF reviews of the effectiveness of college boards can be found here.


In previous years, a college’s external auditors signed off a college’s accounts on the assumption that the ESFA had provided the necessary checks on the accuracy of income claims submitted by a college via its Individualised Learner Record (ILR) returns. However, in a new ‘Post-16 Audit Code of Practice for 2020/21’ (see here for a copy), the ESFA now requires all colleges to instruct their external auditors to conduct an audit of their ILR generated funding claims before signing off their 2020/21 financial statements. This is presumably because the ESFA has concluded that the year-end funding statement generated by its own systems does not by itself provide sufficient assurance of the accuracy of a college’s ILR generated funding claims. The extra audit requirement has been subject to criticism, not only because it comes two-thirds of the way through the financial year, but also because it will place an additional burden on colleges’ already stretched finances. At present, it is unclear whether other funding bodies that use ILR returns to generate funding claims (such as mayoral combined authorities) will also require this additional audit work to be carried out.


On 20 April the DfE launched its ‘Skills Accelerator’ programme. The programme has its origin in the recent FE (Skills for Jobs) White Paper published on 21 January, which focuses on proposals to address ‘skills mismatches’ between the needs of local employers and the provision offered by local colleges and independent training providers. The White Paper also proposes that, if necessary, the Secretary of State for Education in England should be given legal powers to compel colleges to align the courses they offer more closely to local employers’ skills needs. The Skills Accelerator Programme has two main components, and the DfE is inviting bids for funding from organisations interested in piloting each of them. The first invites employer representative bodies to bid for funds to lead pilots in the development of Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs) in one of six to eight trailblazer areas. The second invites bids from colleges to lead pilots in one of twelve to sixteen trailblazer areas. More detail on each is given below.

Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs): Employer representative bodies, for example Chambers of Commerce, have been invited to submit an expression of interest in applying for a share of £4 million to lead LSIP pilots. In a contentious ruling, the DfE says that Mayoral Combined Authorities, Local Enterprise Partnerships and Skills Advisory Panels are not eligible to apply since they are not deemed to be employer representative organisations. (London Mayor, Sadiq Khan has apparently expressed his outrage at this exclusion). The DfE bidding guidance says that LSIPs should be created in collaboration with colleges, training providers and employers and should set out ‘…a credible and evidence-based assessment of skills needs, to which providers will be empowered to respond’. The guidance goes on to say that this outcome-focused approach will ‘…help ensure providers deliver provision in line with agreed LSIP priorities which will lead to meaningful employment for their learners and will encourage them to scale back where provision does not lead to jobs’.

The Strategic Development Fund (SDF): Colleges have been invited to bid for a share of the new £65 million Strategic Development Fund, which consists of £38 million capital funding and £27 million revenue funding. The bidding guidance says that the DfE is looking for colleges to deliver pilots which will ‘…begin building the local collaborations that will create a stronger and more efficient overall delivery infrastructure’, and to ‘…support the development of a high-value curriculum offer that will support longer-term local skills priorities’. Bids submitted to the DfE:

  • Must be led by an Ofsted grade one or two college, which must consult with all colleges in the local area and invite them to join the collaboration. If a college does not wish to become a member, the lead college must confirm that the institution has been provided with an opportunity to join the collaboration and provide the rationale for them wishing to remain outside of it. Independent training providers are not permitted to be a lead provider but can be a member of the collaboration.
  • Must provide a clear justification for the collaboration membership and provide a high-level outline of the individual contribution that each member will make.
  • Can involve the creation of a new college-based business centre. The DfE says that it does not expect every bid to include one, but if one is included, the business centre will be based in one of the colleges within the collaboration and will be a shared resource for all colleges. Business centres are intended to:
  • Enable a strategic response to the skills needs of local employers and play a pivotal role in connecting employers to the technical expertise and facilities available within the collaboration.
  • Help employers better understand their skills needs and help them to develop and make better use of the skills of their existing workforce.
  • Communicate information about employers’ skills requirements to the providers within the collaboration and help them ensure their provision is more closely aligned with those skills.

Further information on both the LSIP and SDF schemes can be found here. Guidance on the application process for both schemes can be found here. Applications must be made by 25 May 2021. The funding made available for both pilots must be used by 25 March 2022.


In an extensive briefing note published on 22 April with the lengthy title of ‘Big changes to adult education funding? Definitely maybe’, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS) criticises the White Paper because, says the IfS, ‘…it lacks commitment and detail’ and ‘…falls short in a number of areas’. In the briefing note the IfS focuses mainly on adult learners and says that:

  • The White Paper comes on the back of a large drop in the number of adult learners and a 50% fall in spending on adult education and skills since 2010.
  • The National Skills Fund indicates a commitment to spend an extra £2.5 billion on adult skills over the current parliament, or about £625 million extra per year for four years, but there is lack of detail and this spending commitment will only reverse about one-third of the cuts to adult education budgets over the decade since 2010.
  • As of April 2021, the government has restored the entitlement to free Level 3 courses for adults without qualifications at this level. However, the entitlement only applies to courses in ‘high priority’ areas, which exclude courses in areas such as hospitality, tourism, and media.
  • The White Paper only commits to a consultation on funding methodology, but there is an urgent need to the reform the funding system because of its complexity, short-term focus, and perverse incentives to increase learner numbers at the lowest cost.
  • A key policy initiative in the White Paper is the Lifelong Loan Entitlement, which aims to give adults access to funding for the equivalent of four years of post-18 education and remove arbitrary distinctions between FE and HE courses. While the policy seems sensible, there are several important details left to be worked out. For example, courses classed as ‘approved higher technical qualifications’ will be eligible for extra funding, but it is not clear how this extra funding will be determined.
  • Despite consultation undertaken as part of the Augar Review, the government has only committed to consult further on whether to relax equivalent or lower qualification funding rules. Relaxing such rules would enable more adults to retrain at qualification levels they have already attained in other areas.

A copy of the full IFS briefing note can be found here.


Flexi-apprenticeships were announced in March. They are intended to enable apprenticeships to be offered in sectors where single employers are unable offer a long-enough placement to meet the minimum 12-month requirement. Examples of these sectors include TV, film and theatre production and some areas of construction and agriculture, where jobs tend to be task specific, time limited and usually freelance.

Flexi-apprenticeships will require new agencies to be set up that will employ apprentices for a minimum of 12 months and place them with multiple employers. In his March budget, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, made £7 million available to help set up these new agencies and to trial flexi apprenticeships prior to a formal launch in January 2022. On 20 April, the DfE launched a consultation on how flexi-apprenticeships should be organised and run. The consultation covers such things as what the £7 million provided in the March budget should be spent on, and a proposal to create a new Register of Approved Flexi-job Apprenticeship Schemes that existing training agencies will need to apply to join if they want to become a flexi-job apprenticeship scheme provider. A copy of the consultation, which closes on 1 June, can be found here.


Data on apprenticeships and traineeship in England published on 6 April reveals that in 2019/20 (pre-pandemic) only 60.2% of apprentices on the new standards completed their apprenticeship. This was an improvement on the 48.3% who completed their apprenticeship on the new standards in 2018/19 but compares adversely with the 69% retention rate for both of these years for apprentices on the old frameworks. It is possible that apprentices on the new standards may have dropped out of their programme early if they achieved a qualification that proves their professional competency before they were due to sit their end-point assessment (EPA), but this would not fully explain these otherwise very high apprenticeship dropout rates. As a result, the Minister for Skills and Apprenticeships, Gillian Keegan, has asked the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) to investigate the reasons for the low retention rates.

IfATE has already announced that it intends to simplify apprenticeships on the new standards that have a statutory regulator and an established professional competency test (for example, as is the case in nursing and other areas of healthcare) and is proposing that when an apprentice on such a programme has met the statutory regulator’s requirements to practice, this will be substituted for the apprentice’s EPA. However, the number of apprenticeships this might apply to count for a relatively small proportion of the total.

A copy of the latest apprenticeship and traineeship data can be found here.


Employers have for a long time requested a new Level 2 Business Administration apprenticeship to replace the programme on the old framework that was scrapped last year. In partial response, IfATE says it is currently considering a proposal put forward by the NHS and other public sector employers for a new Level 2 Public Sector Organisation Administrative Assistant apprenticeship on the new apprenticeship standards. If approved by IfATE, the new apprenticeship could be available from this September.


In 2020, around 37% of school leavers aged 18 in the UK entered HE, and around 25% of those school-leavers went on to vocational study in FE. However, a new report published on 22 April by the Social Market Foundation (SMF) and the Further Education Trust for Leadership (FETL) based on research carried out by the polling company Opinium says that:

  • Vocational education is regarded as the best option for school leavers. 48% of respondents said that they would prefer their child to obtain a vocational qualification rather than to attend a university (which was preferred by 37%) or start work (which was preferred by 8%).
  • The vocational education preference extends to university graduates and middle-class people with almost as many respondents in the higher ABC1 social classifications wanting their child to take a vocational qualification (43%) as wanting their child to go to university (45%).
  • 18-24-year-olds are significantly more likely to favour university over vocational education in FE, but graduates are also more likely to regret their educational choice than people who did vocational qualifications. Although 55% of people with a degree say they would opt to go to university if they had to choose again, 33% of graduates said they wished they had taken a vocational course instead. Against this, 61% of people with vocational qualifications said they would take the same route again, while 27% said they wish they’d gone to university instead.
  • 25% of respondents said they thought that a degree would not help with getting a job, whilst 85% said vocational qualifications would. However, the survey found that most respondents thought that attending university and obtaining a degree is a more reliable pathway to financial security later in life.
  • From a political and government policy perspective, people eligible to vote are more positive about the value of technical and vocational education than they are about academic learning. 50% of voters believe politicians should give equal priority to the FE and HE systems. 31% said that FE should be given priority over HE, and just 9% said HE should be prioritised over FE. Opinium says that this suggests that the politicians and media outlets that give disproportionate focus on HE in preference to FE are out of touch with public opinion.

Meanwhile, data produced by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (see here) shows that £9,399 is spent per student in HE in England, a 9% increase in real terms over the past decade, while FE students and apprentices receive around a third less and that amount has fallen in real terms over the same period.

A copy of the full report, which is entitled ‘Not just other people’s children: what the public thinks about vocational education’, can be found here.


Research conducted by the AoC in 80 colleges in England and published earlier this month reveals that 77% of 16-18 year-olds are performing below expectations and that 75% are one-to-four months behind where they should normally be at this point in the academic year. For adult students, 69% are performing below expectations and 71% are one-to-four months behind. Students on practical courses (e.g. construction, engineering, and hairdressing) have been the worst affected since these courses require hands-on teaching that cannot easily be replaced through online delivery. Using the research findings, the AoC has put forward several policy proposals to help inform the work of Sir Kevan Collins, the recently appointed Education Recovery Commissioner for England. These proposals include the following:

  • An increase in funding per student is needed to provide additional taught hours to help all students to get the education they need to catch up. This is particularly true of practical courses where costs are higher and group sizes smaller for safety reasons. The cost of each additional hour per week based on the current funding rate and a 36-week academic year would cost around £350 million.
  • Students leaving college this summer will face a difficult labour market, particularly for those with little work experience and unproven skills. Core and support funding is currently at least 15% less than is needed. Making up the shortfall would cost approximately £900 million.
  • Around £200 million extra is needed to service 16-19 growth due to demographic increases and declines in apprenticeship starts for young people.
  • Most pupil premium students transfer to FE colleges at 16. The disadvantage which holds back school pupils continues into the 16-18 phase. The pupil premium should therefore continue to be paid for students aged 16-18. Using the secondary school eligibility criteria and funding level, the cost of this would be £100 million.
  • The pandemic has severely disrupted students’ learning. To compensate for this, every college student finishing this year should have access to a guaranteed additional fully funded year of study where they need it. For some students, an extra term or 6 months will be sufficient, whilst others might need a full year to progress. In addition, the 17.5% cut in funding at 18 that currently exists should be removed. The cost of a guaranteed third year of full funding for 18-year-olds would be an additional £70 million.

A copy of the AoC research entitled College catch-up funding and remote education’ can be found here.


On 23 April a new study was launched to track and analyse the impact of the pandemic on the educational attainment, longer-term career outcomes, and well-being of a representative sample of 12,000 young people from across England who are now in year 11 at school. The study, called the COVID Social Mobility and Opportunities study (COSMO) will be the largest investigation of its kind into the effect the pandemic has had on young people who have had their education disrupted. UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has provided a grant of £4.6 million for the study which will be led by researchers from the UCL Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities, and the Sutton Trust. More information on the project can be found here.


Data published on 20 April by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that unemployment in the UK fell slightly for a second month, despite the Covid-19 lockdown. The data shows that the unemployment rate fell to 4.9% in the three months to February (or about 1.7 million people), a small improvement from 5% in the three months to January. However, the data also shows younger workers have been hit the hardest by rising unemployment during the pandemic, with those under the age of 35 accounting for almost 80% of jobs lost in the past year. In addition, long-term unemployment for the under-25 age group has hit a five-year high, with more than 200,000 out of work for more than six months. To add to the pressure, employment opportunities for the under-25s are falling even as the overall number of people in work begins to rise for every other age group. A copy of the April ONS unemployment data can be found here.


Since the start of the year, only university students on practical courses and courses for key workers have been allowed to receive face-to-face teaching, leaving around a million other students to be taught online. However, earlier this month the DfE announced that all students will be able to go back to university campuses for face-to-face study on 17 May. Since schools and colleges are already fully open, the further delay has been described as ‘hugely disappointing’ by Universities UK, but Universities Minister for England, Michelle Donelan, said that the movement of students across the country still ‘…poses a risk for the transmission of the virus’. Meanwhile, Jo Grady, the General Secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), which opposes students returning this academic year, said ‘Restarting in-person activities in mid-May, with only weeks of the academic year left, makes absolutely no sense as most lectures and seminars will already have finished’. Students returning to university will be offered Covid testing on campus when they return, with an initial three tests carried out under supervision, after which students will be asked to take tests themselves at their place of residence. Full DfE guidance on the return of students to campus can be found here.


In an update published earlier this month, the DfE says that, in England, subject to a continued fall in infections, it will no longer be recommended that face masks be worn by staff and students in FE providers’ classrooms, or in communal areas from 17 May. See here for a copy of the update.


Three new apprentices were at college for their first off-the-job training. They were sitting in the college canteen having a cup of coffee during their break and were talking about their experience of the first day in their work placements.

The first said, ‘I told them I wanted to work with animals, so they put me on a butchery apprenticeship and got me a placement in an abattoir. When I got there, the boss bet me £50 that I couldn’t reach two pieces of meat on the top shelf in the cold store, but I said I wouldn’t take the bet because the steaks were too high’.

The second said, I told them I wanted to be a pharmacist, so they put me on a medical technician apprenticeship and found me a placement in a hospital pharmacy department. On my first day in my placement, my boss told me that I would always be expected to give 100%. So, I asked what if I was donating blood?’.

The third apprentice said I told them that I wanted to be an engineer, so they put me on an engineering apprenticeship and found me a placement with a small engineering firm. When I got to my placement, the boss handed me £5 and told me to go down to the local ironmonger and ask for a glass hammer, a set of left-handed spanners, some sky hooks, a bubble for a spirit level and a skirting board ladder. I laughed and said, you must think I’m stupid, that lot’s going to cost much more than a fiver’.

Alan Birks – April 2021

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