Issue 95 | May 2019

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Earlier this month (May), following a 3-month public consultation, Ofsted published the final version of its new Education Inspection Framework (EIF) for England, along with the accompanying FE and Skills Inspection Handbook. The new EIF replaces the earlier Common Inspection Framework (CIF) and will apply to all inspections from this September onwards. The changes confirmed following the consultation include the following:

  • Inspection reports will be redesigned and shortened to only give key information about each college.
  • Under the current CIF there are 6 categories awarded a grade. These are:
    • 16-19 study programmes
    • Adult learning programmes
    • Apprenticeships
    • Traineeships
    • Provision for learners with high needs
    • Full-time college provision for 14-16-year-olds.
  • Ofsted had proposed to reduce these to 3, which were:
    • Education programmes for young people
    • Apprenticeships
    • Adult learning programmes.
  • Ofsted intended that inspectors’ judgements about high needs should be subsumed within the three categories above. However, after significant number of respondents to the consultation said that the separate high needs grade should be retained Ofsted agreed to this. This means that the number of categories given an inspection grade will fall to from 6 to 4 (i.e. the 3 above plus high needs).
  • The ‘overall effectiveness’ judgement will be made on the basis of the ‘quality of education’ delivered by the provider (which will include things as student progress and destinations). Ofsted says that less emphasis will be placed performance data, such as achievement rates (although observers warn providers not to do so). This means that a provider’s ‘overall effectiveness’ will be informed by 4 key judgements. These are:
    • Quality of education
    • Behaviour and attitudes
    • Personal development
    • Leadership and management.
  • All inspection judgements will continue to be awarded under the current 4-point grading scale, which are ‘outstanding’, ‘good’, ‘requires improvement’, and ‘inadequate’.
    • Providers judged as ‘outstanding’ for overall effectiveness will not normally be subject to routine inspection unless performance declines or there is another compelling reason such as safeguarding concerns.
    • Providers graded as ‘good’ for overall effectiveness will be inspected within five years of the publication of their inspection report. Most will receive a short inspection focusing on the quality of education, safeguarding and leadership to determine whether the quality of provision is still ‘good’. Ofsted had proposed that inspectors would arrive at a provider’s premises the day after they were notified of the short inspection, but the majority of those responding to the consultation expressed concerns that this would cause excessive stress and increased workload, so this proposal has been dropped.
    • Providers judged as ‘inadequate’ will be subject to re-inspection monitoring visits and will receive a full re-inspection within 15 months of the publication of their previous inspection report.
    • Providers that are judged ‘requires improvement’ overall will have the timescale for their next full inspection extended from 12-24 months to 12-30 months.
  • Ofsted has decided not to introduce campus-level inspections. The decision not to carry out such inspections is thought to be because the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) does not have sufficient performance data at individual campus level for Ofsted to meaningfully carry them out. Ofsted says that the decision not to inspect at campus level may be revisited in the future.

A copy of the final version of the EIF is available at:

And a copy of the final version of the Further Education and Skills Inspection Handbook can be found at:

Information and data on the outcome of FE and Skills inspections carried out up to 30 April can be found at:


The Education and Training Foundation (ETF) has published its 2019 Further Education and Workforce Data Report. The report is based on 2017/18 Staff Individualised Record (SIR) returns from colleges and other providers in England. FE providers are classified as one of four types. These are: colleges – sub-divided into general FE colleges (GFECs) and sixth form colleges (SFCs); independent training providers (ITPs); local authorities; and ‘other’. The information revealed in the report for GFECs shows that:

  • The median annual pay of main grade teaching staff has fallen from £32,500 to £31,800. This means that GFEC teachers in England are, on average, now paid around £5,000 less than teachers in secondary schools and a similar amount less than their counterparts in Scottish FE colleges. The median pay for teaching staff in GFECs is, however, still higher than in ITPs (£26,000) or in local authorities (£25,500).
  • The contraction in pay was less pronounced for teachers in sixth form colleges (SFCs), where average pay decreased from £39,900 in 2016/17 to £39,000 in 2017/18.
  • Median GFEC teacher pay is higher in Greater London (£36,600).
  • The median annual pay for managers in GFECs in 2017/18 was £59,400, compared £32,800 in ITPs.
  • The gender pay gap for all GFEC staff has increased from 7% in 2016/17 to 9.3% in 2017/18. This is because the median pay for male staff increased by 3.9%, while for female staff median pay increased by 1.3%. For teaching staff the gender pay gap fell to 2.5%, down from 2.9% in 2016/17.

A copy of the ETF report is available at:


A report from the Education Policy Institute (EPI) shows that in the period between 2010/11 and 2018/19:

  • 16-19 funding has been cut:
    • 16-19 funding per student in England fell by 16% in real terms from £5,900 to £4,960. This is twice the rate (8%) at which all school spending fell. The real-terms fall in total 16-19 funding (i.e. taking inflation into account) was 27%, from £7.8 billion to £5.7 billion.
    • Total funding per 16-19 full-time equivalent (FTE) student across the whole FE sector fell from £6,250 to £5,150 (or by 18% in real terms). The contraction has been less than in school sixth forms, where real terms funding fell by 26% from £6,280 to £4,680.
    • Funding per full-time student in SFCs fell by 15%, from £5,180 to £4,430 per student, while funding per student in GFECs fell by 9% from £5,870 to £5,320. The reason why GFECs have experienced smaller reductions than SFCs is partly because disadvantaged students are more likely to study in those institutions, and funding to compensate providers for more challenging intakes has increased. This support funding is ‘in and out’ and does not impact on core GFEC funding for programme delivery. Funding for programme delivery decreased by 30%, while disadvantage and high needs support funding combined grew by 68%.
  • The financial health of all provider types has deteriorated:
    • The proportion of SFCs with in-year deficits increased five-fold from 7% to 36%.
    • The proportion of GFECs with in-year deficits doubled from 20% to 40%.
    • The proportion of local-authority maintained schools with sixth forms with in-year deficits increased from 37% to 54%.
    • The proportion of academies with sixth forms with in-year deficits increased from 39% to 51%.
  • Students are receiving fewer learning hours:
    • The amount of guided learning hours for 16-19 students has decreased by 9%, falling from 730 hours to 665 hours per student. While overall learning hours per student decreased, GCSE-level study increased, mainly as a result of the DfE’s English and mathematics resits policy.
    • Learning hours per student in academic level 3 qualifications fell by 21%, from 418 to 331 hours per student. This was partly as a result of a decrease in AS level provision.
    • Learning hours per student in vocational level 3 study increased by 18% from 170 hours to 201 hours.

The EPI recommends that the government should urgently review the adequacy of 16-19 funding to inform whether current funding rates are jeopardising the sector’s financial sustainability and to produce an assessment of the resulting impact on the breadth of the post-16 curriculum’.

A copy of the EPI report is available at:


The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has published its latest report on the apprenticeship reforms introduced in April 2017. The report makes a number of observations on the effectiveness of the reforms, along with recommendations for the DfE, ESFA and the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE). These include the following:

  • The apprenticeship programme has become heavily weighted towards higher-level apprenticeships. This, says the report, comes with the risk that people with lower skills and those from disadvantaged communities are being left behind. The PAC also has concerns that some employers are using apprenticeship funds to pay for professional training or higher-level management courses that they would otherwise have paid for themselves. The PAC recommends that the DfE assess whether there are enough Level 2 standards to allow ‘school leavers and/or those with fewer skills to easily access apprenticeships’ and asks the DfE to report to back to the PAC on its findings within six months.
  • The report says that the DfE’s approach to encouraging under-represented groups to participate in apprenticeships is inadequate. The targets for apprenticeship starts amongst the black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) population, and amongst those with a learning difficulty, disability or health problem, are unambitious. There are no gender-based targets for the programme (e.g. only 9% of apprentices taking STEM subjects are women). The PAC recommends that the DfE sets more robust targets for the recruitment of BAME, women and those with disabilities to apprenticeship programmes, along with an evaluation of the impact of the DfE’s actions to attract more women into STEM apprenticeships.
  • The PAC noted that Ofsted inspection reports show that in 2017/18 around a third of apprentices were being trained by providers rated as ‘inadequate’ or ‘requires improvement’. This led to concerns that ‘too many apprentices are being trained by sub-standard providers’. The PAC says that the ESFA is able issue sub-standard providers with additional conditions of funding or extra contractual obligations and can ultimately terminate a provider’s contract, but that the ESFA has taken this step with only 11 providers in the past 5 years. The PAC recommends that the DfE and ESFA should develop a more robust approach to provider interventions.
  • The apprenticeships programme is not supporting smaller and medium size employers (SMEs) well enough. While levy-paying employers have direct access to funds to pay for apprenticeship training and assessment via the on-line digital accounts service (DAS), SMEs can currently only access apprenticeship funding via training providers, who are funded through their contracts with the ESFA. The DfE says that by next year all SMEs should be able to use the DAS system to access training funds directly, but the PAC says that until then, there is a danger that if levy-payers spend all or most of their funds, the ESFA will have less money available to fund apprenticeships in SMEs. These employers are already reporting that they do not have enough funding to meet the demands made on them to provide apprenticeships. The PAC has therefore recommended that until SMEs can access the DAS, the DfE should ring-fence a proportion of apprenticeship funding for SMEs.
  • The PAC has serious concerns about quality of the arrangements for assessing apprentices. Under the new apprenticeship standards, each apprentice is assessed by an independent third-party organisation at the end of their apprenticeship. However, in late 2018, 19 standards had no end-point assessment (EPA) organisation in place, and 98 standards had only one EPA organisation in place. The PAC says that the arrangements for checking the quality and consistency of end-point assessments across the range of EPAs carrying them out is inconsistent. The PAC recommends that the ESFA and IfATE provide more detail on their plans to ‘streamline and strengthen quality assurance arrangements and to give greater confidence that end-point assessments are robust, fair and consistent’.
  • The DfE uses a ‘Skills Index’ to measure for the impact of apprenticeships on productivity (see section below). This takes account of the number of apprenticeship starts, apprentices’ progression into jobs, and the subsequent increase in their earnings. However, the DfE has not yet set out what headline value of the skills index would constitute ‘success’. The PAC recommends that the DfE should publish targets for measuring the short term and long-term improvement in the annual value of the skills index.

A copy of the PAC report is available at:


This section is complicated and is even more likely to make your eyes glaze over than the other stuff in the newsletter. The DfE produces an annual Skills Index which purports to show how the aggregate value of the skills supplied by the FE system each year has changed over time. It is also used to assess the impact of the FE system on productivity by measuring the increase in earnings that can be attributed to achieving a qualification. Changes in the Skills Index occur when there are changes in either the numbers of people achieving qualifications in a year and/or changes in the ‘average value’ of the qualifications obtained. The average value of qualifications will increase if more learners are undertaking training that offers higher-level skills and qualifications. The DfE says that although data is readily available on the total number of achievements in any year, the availability of data to estimate changes in the quality and level of courses is lagged and it could be a year or more before such changes can be included in the index. Until this data is available the Skills Index is likely to underestimate the value-added arising from government policies that are introduced with the specific aim of improving quality of skills provision, such as the recent apprenticeship reforms. The overall FE Skills Index, covering both apprenticeships and classroom-based learning, has decreased each year since 2012/13, before flattening out in 2017/18. In the case of classroom-based training, in 2017/18, the value added decreased by 2% on the previous year. This was due to the decrease in the number of achievements at Level 2 and Level 3. However, the value-added for

apprenticeships has increased year-on-year since 2012/13 and in 2017/18 increased by 2% on the previous year. This was due to an increase in the number of advanced and higher-level apprenticeship achievements, and these apprenticeships being offered in higher wage employment sectors. More information is available at:


The latest figures published by the DfE show that apprenticeship starts for the period from August 2018 to February 2019 increased by 10% on the previous year. However, they still remain 18% below the same period in 2016/17, which was the year before the levy reforms were introduced. These figures also show a 24% (and widening) gap in the level of recruitment needed to achieve the government’s manifesto commitment of 3 million apprenticeship starts by 2020. There were 25,300 starts in February and in the period since the manifesto commitment was made in 2015, the average number of starts per month has been less than 40,000. This means that in the remaining months to March 2020 there will need to be an average of nearly 90,000 starts per month. Nevertheless, the data shows that after a dramatic initial contraction in the period after the levy was introduced, the numbers of apprenticeship starts appear to have stabilised.


As previously mentioned, since the levy was introduced there has been a considerable reduction in the number of lower-level apprenticeship starts and a correspondingly large increase in the number of apprenticeship starts at Levels 4 and above (degree and other HE equivalent apprenticeships).

There has also been a significant shift in the age profile of apprentices, with a lower take up of apprenticeships by young people age 16-18, and a much higher take up by those aged 19+. Compared to the period from August 2016 to February 2017, the DfE figures show that the number of starts at Level 4 and above has almost doubled for under-19s and almost trebled for those aged 19-24. This is partly explained by the fact that levy-payers tend to be larger firms with more sophisticated and complex training needs. Given the choice between using their levy funding or losing it, many of these firms have opted to offer higher level programmes, mainly to their existing staff. However, higher-level apprenticeships tend to be far more expensive than lower level ones. (For example, one Level 7 management apprenticeship costs the same as nine Level 3 health and social care apprenticeships). Courses last longer, require more expensive equipment and facilities and more highly-paid trainers. This inevitably puts pressure on the apprenticeships budget, which has resulted in restrictions in funding for lower level apprenticeships and apprenticeships offered by smaller, non-levy paying firms. Against this, some have argued many of the Level 2 apprenticeships that were previously on offer were low-quality programmes that offered little skills development and conversely, that higher-level programmes, particularly those that offer young people a genuine platform for skills development, should be welcomed.

Because the apprenticeship system now looks less focused on young people, it does not reflect the governments initial aim for apprenticeships to become a core post-16 option for young people. And although the number of higher-level apprenticeships taken up by young people has risen (3,500 starts between August 2018 and February 2019), this growth is small relative to the 31,000 increase in the number of over 25s starting higher-level apprenticeship programmes over the same period. Over this period, there were more than twice as many older people starting MBA-level equivalent apprenticeship programmes than there were young people starting a degree apprenticeship route. Much of this growth has taken place at Level 7 (master’s degree equivalent) business programmes and in Level 5 management programmes for people aged 25+. The trend seems to be continuing with the IfATE Funding Approvals Committee currently considering whether Level 8 (PhD equivalent) apprenticeships should be funded. (Level 8 occupations include jobs such as those of a surgeon or dentist). The changing pattern of apprenticeships is perhaps an inevitable consequence of the government’s competing objectives for the apprenticeship programme. These include boosting productivity and responding to large employer’s demands for highly skilled and qualified workers whilst at the same time seeking to provide young, often lower-qualified, people with a route into skilled employment. As the 2018/19 Social Mobility Commission State of the Nation report (below) points out, this conflict of objectives has implications for social mobility. The latest apprenticeship data can be accessed at:


The Social Mobility Commission (SMC) has published its 2018/19 ‘State of the Nation’ report. The section of the report covering general FE starts off by saying:

‘The FE sector looks measurably different to the population as a whole. There is a high proportion of ethnic minority learners; treble the general population of ethnic minority individuals in England and Wales. Almost a quarter speak English as a second language and many were born outside the UK.  FE students disproportionately live in deprived areas and are often on low incomes, with 25% of FE students claiming out-of-work benefits prior to starting.  Additionally, the age make-up is varied. 28% of FE students are aged below 19, 17% are aged between 19-24, and the remaining 45% are spread out in their late 20s, 30s, 40s, and over 50s.  More than half of FE students (55%) have children, indicating that they are likely to be balancing caring responsibilities. The FE population is diverse and hosts a significantly larger proportion of disadvantaged students than other educational settings.’

The report makes a number of other observations. These include the following:

  • Cuts in 16-19 funding have led to ‘cuts to the curriculum and student support services that have ‘harmed disadvantaged students. It goes on to say that ‘consistent budget cuts have made it more difficult to provide opportunities for everyone’. However, because around 75% of disadvantaged young people opt to take vocational courses, there are around twice the number of disadvantaged 16-18-year-olds in GFECs compared to school sixth forms.
  • The gap in attainment between disadvantaged and advantaged students is growing.
  • Although increasing numbers of students from disadvantaged families are entering university, they are more likely to drop out of their course before they graduate.
  • Five years after graduating, students who were eligible for free school meals were earning 11.5% less than their peers.

The SMC has called on the government to invest more in colleges and to introduce a ‘Student Premium’ for disadvantaged students aged 16-19 (similar to the Pupil Premium in schools), with the extra funding being used to raise attainment. Curiously, the report does not call for Education Maintenance Allowances (EMAs) for disadvantaged 16-18-year-olds in England to be restored. (Although they were scrapped in England, they were retained in other UK countries). Nor does the report argue that maintenance grants for disadvantaged young people in England who go on to university should be restored (Again, they were never abolished in other UK countries) or that part-time FE and HE course fees in England should be reduced (fees are much lower in other UK countries and free in Scotland).

The opening section of the SMC report dealing with apprenticeships says that:

‘Apprentices more closely reflect the ethnic profile within England. 14% of apprentices speak English as a second language, although they disproportionately live in deprived areas, and 41% are aged over 25.  Almost half of apprentices (40%) have children. A key difference between apprentices and FE students is their background immediately prior to studying; 54% of apprentices were working full time before starting their apprenticeship, compared to just 34% of FE students.

The report argues that the current apprenticeship system is not adequately addressing the needs of people from disadvantaged communities and with lower skills and implies that the whole FE system is failing many young people and particularly those who don’t go to university. The report goes on to say that apprenticeships are not adequately helping lower-qualified younger people find a route into skilled employment and has expresses concerns that if levy funds are continually channelled towards more

expensive higher-level routes for older apprentices, many of whom are already in employment, there will be fewer resources to fund programmes either at lower levels and/or to help the young get the qualifications they need. If this persists, the report says that there is a real risk is that the apprenticeship system replicates, rather than addresses, the ‘haves and have nots’ problem associated with the wider education system.

Comparing apprenticeships with general FE provision, this section of the report concludes by saying that:

‘Within the technical education landscape, most disadvantaged students are clustered in FE compared to apprenticeships. This clustering of disadvantaged young people in FE has fuelled the image of the sector being for ‘other people’ who ‘fail at school’ and devalues the legitimacy of the training and education offered in the sector’.

A copy of the 2019 SMC ‘State of the Nation’ report can be found at:


Between May 2017 and the end of January 2019, levy-paying employers utilised £601 million of the funds available to them to pay for apprenticeship training in England. This amounts to just 15% of the £3.9 billion total funds entering employers’ accounts during the same period. In the 12 months from February 2018 to January 2019, £523 million, or 22%, of the £2.36 billion received into employers’ apprenticeship service accounts had been drawn down. Recent policy changes have aimed to increase levy spending. Levy-paying employers are now able to share more of their annual funds with smaller organisations with the levy transfer facility increasing from 10% to 25%. In addition, the 10% contribution that small businesses are required to pay when they take on apprentices has been halved to 5%. However, on average apprenticeships are now costing £9,000, which more than double the original forecast, and in an earlier report the National Audit Office (NAO) warned of the likelihood of a significant budget overspend in the future and that there is ‘clear risk that the apprenticeship programme is not financially sustainable’. The report went on to suggest the government should consider reducing the level of public funding for certain types of apprenticeships because levy-paying employers ‘are developing and choosing more expensive standards at higher levels than was expected’.


Given the emerging pressure on apprenticeship budgets, last year the DfE asked IfATE to review the level of funding allocated to the new apprenticeship standards and the remaining frameworks. IfATE duly set up a group to do this. So far, 61 funding bands have been reviewed and 41 recommendations have been made. The changes recommended, particularly where they involve a funding cut, have proved to be controversial with employers. For example, Halfords has already blamed the decision to cut the funding for the Level 2 Retailer standard by 20% for its decision to terminate all of its Level 2 apprenticeship provision. Scania, the heavy truck and bus manufacturer has warned that the recommended reduction of £3,000 in the funding band for the Level 3 Heavy Vehicle Service and Maintenance Technician standard threatens the firm’s long-term skills strategy and both Tesco and Next have objected strongly to the reduction of £5,000 in funding for the Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship. As a consequence of these and other concerns, IfATE has now decided to set up a second group to review the recommendations of the group tasked with reviewing apprenticeship funding bands. The role of this second group is to advise the IfATE on whether the changes in funding recommended by the first group have resulted in the delivery of some apprentice programmes becoming financially unviable. A spokesperson for IfATE has said that where it can be shown that the impact of a funding change is excessive, ‘after analysing trends’ IfATE will take ‘appropriate action’.


Organisations wanting to be approved to deliver apprenticeship training must be listed on the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers (RoATP). When the register was first established the ESFA was inundated with applications and the number of providers listed on the register rose rapidly to almost 2,600 (although 580 of those listed never actually delivered any apprenticeship training). Consequently, the applications process was suspended for more than a year in order to provide the ESFA with the time it needed to establish more robust and challenging entry requirements for applicants. Although no new applicants were accepted during this time, some aspirant providers were able to buy their way onto the register through purchasing dormant ‘off-the-shelf’ companies that had been accepted onto the register, but which had never traded. The RoATP re-opened last December with the ESFA saying that it intended to assess applications for listing within 12 weeks of receiving them. However, it appears that once again, the ESFA has been faced with a much higher than expected number of new applicants. This is partly because organisations previously listed on the register have been required to reapply to join, partly because all subcontractors, including those delivering less than the previous threshold of £100,000 a year, are now required to be listed on the register, and partly because there are still large numbers of new providers applying to be listed on the register for the first time. Applications are being dealt with in batches, but the delay in the approval process has resulted in applicants becoming increasingly frustrated. Unfortunately, neither the ESFA nor the ESFA appears to be able to say when applicants will learn the outcome of their application, nor when the next phase of applications to join the register will be dealt with.


For those interested in such things, earlier this month the ESFA published its latest guidance on apprenticeship funding rules for 2018/19. The guidance can be accessed at:

And a useful summary of the changes for 2018/19 compared with the rules in 2017/18 can be found at:


In 2014, the DfE introduced a ‘condition of funding’ rule that required all students in England aged 16-18 who failed to achieve a Grade C (or 4 under the new grading system) or above in these subjects at GCSE on leaving school, to continue studying English and mathematics while they are at college (on courses of 150 hours or more). They will continue to study these subjects in addition to their main college course until they achieve the required grades or reach the age of 19. Students who have only failed by one grade to obtain a grade C/4 pass must continue to study for the GCSE examinations. Students who fail by more than one grade are permitted to take an approved alternative Level 2 examination (e.g. Functional Skills). The ‘condition of funding’ rule says that if colleges fail to provide appropriate opportunities for students to continue to study these subjects alongside their main course, this will result in the student funding for the whole of the course being withdrawn. Critics have said that the rule is ‘failing’ and that demoralised students are being forced to take multiple resits. In 2016, the then Ofsted Chief Inspector for England, Sir Michael Wilshaw said that, ‘While the policy’s intention to improve literacy and numeracy levels is well intentioned, the implementation of the policy is not having the desired impact in practice’. Nevertheless, evidence is now emerging that the policy is beginning to achieve some level of improvement in grades. The latest DfE statistics shows that the percentage of students aged 16-18 who left school with GCSE grades in mathematics and English below grade C or 4 in mathematics, and who went on to achieve a grade 4 (or above) at college has improved.

The trend in the headline data is as follows:

Year Mathematics English
2016 12.1% 17.0%
2017 17.5% 21.5%
2018 18.7% 23.5%

However, while the improvement has been welcomed, the current Ofsted Chief Inspector for England, Amanda Spielman, said in her 2018 Annual Report, ‘We continue to be worried about the effectiveness of the government’s policy. Resit pass rates are low, at 24% for English and 19% for mathematics, and the impact of repeated failure on students should not be underestimated’. More detail on 2018 16-18 GCSE resit results, along with data on GCE A-Level and other 16-18 examination can be found at:

And the latest version of the DfE condition of funding rule can be found at:


There are five headline measures of progress in the DFE 16-18 performance tables in England. These are:

  • Progress
  • Attainment
  • Progress in English and mathematics
  • Retention
  • Destinations

The DfE has announced a change to the 16-18 English and mathematics progress measure which will come into effect in the 2020 DfE 16-18 performance tables. Firstly, the progress point system is being switched from an 8-point scale to a 9-point scale, to mirror the new 9-1 GCSE grading system. Secondly, in order to ensure that students aged 16-18 who achieved GCSE grades in English and mathematics below Grade 3 at school and who take and who take qualifications that are approved alternatives to GCSEs at college are not unfairly penalised, the DfE has increased the value of progress points for students attaining Functional Skills at Level 1 and Level 2. (It has been argued for some time that current progress points values are too low to accurately reflect student progress). Further details of the changes is given in the technical guide, an updated version of which was published on 8 May, and which can be accessed at:


Despite an additional in-year £3.6 million working capital loan from the DfE last year, the DfE has provided a further allocation of £4.6 million (which apparently will not need to be paid back) to the National College for High Speed Rail. This was apparently necessary in order to enable its auditors to sign off the college as a ‘going concern’. The college’s accountants had previously forecast a  £7.5 million budget shortfall over the next few years which, said a college spokesperson, had partly been caused by the funding band for the Level 4 High-speed Rail and Infrastructure apprenticeship standard being set at £21,000, rather than £27,000, that had been originally expected forecast, and partly caused by a shortfall in anticipated student recruitment. The college enrolled just 96 students when it first opened, although it says that it aims to recruit 1,200 a year by 2022. To help increase recruitment, the college says it plans to expand its offer into other areas of transport, such as light rail, metro and freight, highways and airports and is currently consulting on a proposal to change its name to the ‘National College for Advanced Transport and Infrastructure’.


The DfE has abandoned its aim for the CEC to become financially self-sufficient. This means that the CEC will continue to be reliant on public funding for the foreseeable future. DfE funding for the CEC has almost doubled from £18.8 million in 2017/18 to £30.2 million in 2018/19 meaning that it has now received more than £95 million in public funds since its inception in 2014. However, in its sustainability plan, the CEC claims to be on track to achieve 50% of its funds from alternative sources of income by the end of 2018/19. This, says the CEC, will be achieved through such things as the ‘sale of the company’s products to employers’, ‘investments’ and the ‘leverage of funds from other sources such as Local Enterprise Partnerships’ (which are themselves part-publicly funded). Meanwhile, the CEC remains under pressure to prove its effectiveness and value for money. Meg Hillier, the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) says that the PAC will undertake a review of the DfE’s careers spending, the majority of which currently goes to the CEC, and the extent to which alternative sources of income were being generated by the CEC. Commenting on the CEC’s continued need for government funding, a DfE spokesperson said, ‘Since the launch of our careers strategy in 2017, the remit of the CEC has expanded and the government recognises that continued grant funding is necessary to fulfil their important role’. In the meantime, following the launch of the first 20 careers hubs in September 2018, the DfE has now announced that an additional £2.5 million is to be made available to develop new ‘career hubs’ and to expand existing ones. The aim of the hubs is to bring together schools, colleges, universities and employers to provide improved careers advice for young people through regular interaction with employers, and the offer of workplace experience, which some might say is the role of the CEC.


Following consultation with the employers and providers that took part in the T-Level work placement pilot earlier this academic year, the DfE has announced a new package of financial support will be made available to incentivise more employers to provide the 45-day (or 315 hour) work placements for students on T-Level programmes. The package includes ‘how to guides’, workshops and other support to help employers organise T-Level work placements, and £7 million to help cover the costs associated with hosting a young person in the workplace (e.g. providing equipment and specialist clothing) ahead of the roll-out of the first three T Levels in September 2020. The DfE has also announced that more flexibility in work placements will be allowed, For example, it will now be possible for a student’s placement to be split between multiple employers if appropriate (e.g. to help accommodate students with part time jobs or caring responsibilities). In addition, short ‘taster’ placements for specialist areas will be allowed, as will the use of  skills hubs or employer training centres for providing part of a work placement (e.g. to improve a student’s readiness to work on a ‘live site’ in, say, construction or engineering). More information is available at:


The DfE has awarded the Association of Colleges (AoC) the contract to develop a ‘transitional’ course for entry to T-Levels. The transitional course is specifically targeted at students who may not ready to start a T-Level at age 16, but who could nevertheless ‘realistically be expected’ to achieve the qualification by age 19. The AoC will design the course and offer support to providers that will be offering it over the period prior the delivery of the first T-Levels in 2020/21. Enigmatically, the DfE has declined requests to release the tender documents, to say who was eligible to apply or to say how much the contract is worth. This is, said a DfE spokesperson, is because the information is ‘commercially sensitive’. 


In 2015, SFCs in England were given the option of converting to academy status. They were also able to apply for financial support to cover the cost of doing so from the £726 million restructuring fund (which was primarily established to help GFECs and SFCs to implement recommendations arising from area reviews). The advantages for an SFC of converting to academy status includes not having to pay Value Added Tax (VAT) resulting in average annual savings estimated to be around £385,000. In addition, academy staff, like schools’ staff, are more likely to receive a pay award funded by the DfE. The DfE is said to be working on new guidance on how an SFC can convert to academy status and that this will be published in the summer, after which the DfE will reopen the conversion option. However, it seems likely that SFCs will have to pay the costs (estimated to range between £40,000 and £90,000) associated with conversion themselves.


At the time of writing, the much-anticipated publication of Auger Review of Post-18 Education and Funding in England is believed to be imminent. The review was commissioned by Theresa May in the wake of the 2017 general election, in an attempt to counter Labour’s promise to young voters that it would scrap tuition fees altogether. There has been speculation that the review will recommend a cut in annual HE fees to £7,500, along with the return of means-tested grants. There is also speculation that a cap on student numbers could be introduced, either through the imposition of numerical limits or by insisting on higher grades at GCE A-Level (or equivalent) for entry to degree courses. These will be proposals rather than final decisions since the cost of any changes will have to be linked to the government’s spending review later this year. At present, there is no cap on the number of students universities can recruit. The £9,250 annual fees are paid up front to universities by the government. This is on the assumption that the fees will eventually be repaid by students. There are no conditions or clawback in respect of retention and achievement. The rush to expand and maximise income has resulted in intense competition between universities for students (and the fees they bring with them). Some universities have been accused of such things as inflating the grades of degrees they award, of developing ‘low-value degrees’ of ‘dumbing down’ their entry requirements and making an excessive number of unconditional offers in order to encourage students to choose their university rather than a competitor university. Also, many universities have made capital expenditure commitments (e.g. for new buildings and equipment) funded by loans, the repayments and interest on which rely on a continued or increased level or increased level of student recruitment, along with a continued flow of tuition fee income. As a result, Universities UK has warned that lowering the fees to £7,500 per year and/or placing caps on student numbers will put some universities at risk of going bankrupt unless any loss in income arising from the review is replaced by an increase in direct funding to universities from the government. Responding to this, the Secretary of State for England, Damian Hinds, said that while most sectors have had to ‘tighten their belts’ after the financial crash, universities have seen rising fee income. He went on to accuse universities of ‘scaremongering’ and ‘distorting the picture’, and has claimed that overall the HE sector is in good financial health. Meanwhile, Vanessa Wilson, the Head of the University Alliance, representing universities with strong industry links, has suggested that the ‘political vacuum’ surrounding Mrs May’s resignation could mean that the Auger Review and its recommendations were ‘dead on arrival’.


The Association of Colleges (AoC) has launched a new Mental Health and Wellbeing Charter that encourages colleges in England to affirm their commitment to the mental health of their staff students and staff by signing up to it. The launch comes in the middle of Mental Health Awareness Week which draws attention to the fact that around 10% of people experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives and 20% will experience a common mental illness such as anxiety or depression. The Charter was developed in conjunction with mental health experts and includes commitments to challenging mental health stigma, providing appropriate mental health training for staff, and providing targeted individual mental health support where appropriate.

A copy of the AoC charter is available at:


Five dogs have joined the staff of Middlesex University to help students cope with exam stress or other anxiety, and will work primarily on improving student and staff wellbeing. The Labradors have been employed as ‘canine teaching assistants’ and have been given their own staff identity cards.  Commenting on the dogs employment, Fiona Suthers, Head of Clinical Skills at the university said ‘It’s amazing. You can literally feel stress levels reducing. It’s hard to describe the impact of just having a dog lying down in the corner of a class’. Ms Suthers added that the dogs were specially trained and before their appointment had undergone a ‘stringent assessment’ to ensure they had the right temperament for the job. It is unclear whether the dogs are remunerated for their services or have been given access to staff facilities. See:


A college principal was 76 years old. He was very reluctant to give up his job and, when members of his senior team and college governors tactfully suggested that he might want to consider retirement, he was swift to draw their attention to likes of Jeremy Corbyn, Kenneth Clarke, Angela Rippon, Vince Cable, Helen Mirren, Jon Snow (Channel 4 not Game of Thrones) and many other septuagenarians who were all still working. If this failed to have the required effect, he would then remind them of the adverse legal consequences for those individuals and corporations of that failed to comply with the current age discrimination legislation. The principal tended to focus as much of his time as possible on duties that took him outside the college, and preferably abroad whenever possible. One evening, the principal was at one of the many black-tie business dinners he attended when, during the fish course, he found himself choking on a bone which had inadvertently been left in his pike and paprika quenelle. The principal began to cough violently and drank copious amounts of a very palatable Cru Sauvignon Blanc in an attempt to dislodge the bone. But, despite this and the best efforts of the chief executive of the local LEP who valiantly tried to apply the Heimlich Manoeuvre, it was all to no avail. The principal gave one last cough, shrugged off his mortal coil and went up to join that heavenly college of preceptors in the sky.

When the coroner’s report and the other usual formalities had been completed, it was agreed that the principal’s funeral cortege should go past the college in front of those staff and students who could be persuaded to watch it go by. The college had been built on the side of a steep hill and unfortunately, just as the hearse was passing the college entrance, the catch on the rear door of the hearse failed and out rolled the principal’s coffin on its bier. The bier gathered considerable speed as it careered down the hill, causing chaos and mayhem as went. Pedestrians were forced to jump out of the way and cars collided each other as their drivers sought to avoid it. Despite crashing into a number of stationary objects, nothing seemed able to slow it down. At the bottom of the hill, the bier smashed through the window of a chemist’s shop demolishing shelves full of pharmaceuticals, herbal remedies, beauty products and assorted surgical appliances. The counter, however, remained unscathed, as fortunately did the chemist standing in a state of shock behind it. As the coffin trundled past on its bier the lid lifted, the principal sat up and then turning to face the startled chemist, asked ‘Have you got anything to stop this coffin?’

Alan Birks – May 2019

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