Why aren’t colleges welcoming 14-year-olds?

Writing in the Guardian, Rebecca Ratcliffe says FE institutions are now able to enrol pupils full time but high costs and safety worries mean mean that few seem to be doing so…

…Colleges have always worked with under-16s from local schools on a part-time or day-release basis. But a rule change that came into effect last September means they can now enrol them directly and teach them full-time. But only six colleges opted to do so last academic year. Nine further colleges have informed the Department for Education (DFE) that they are ready to teach under-16s from next month. Whether or not they will run courses depends on the numbers they can attract.

Joy Mercer, from the Association of Colleges, isn’t surprised that so few colleges are signing up. “We actually discouraged colleges from going ahead until they have thought very carefully about their relationships with local schools, their infrastructure, their buildings and quality assurances,” she says, adding that there are significant risks in taking on younger students, including the need to protect them in an environment with lots of visitors and adult students.

“You’ve got to make it work. People will be keeping a close eye on you – the local authority will, the DFE will. They will want to see that you’ve got signs of progression and good retention rates.”

Colleges hoping to recruit younger students must be rated as either good or outstanding by Ofsted, or show that they are improving. They are also required to have a dedicated area and special leadership team for younger students. Alongside their vocational studies, students should be taught English, maths and science, and have lessons in religious and sex education.

“It’s very different, being completely responsible for a 14 or 15-year-old, to being a college that is paid by a school to deliver a qualification,” adds Joanna Stokes, assistant principal for teaching, learning and curriculum development at Middlesbrough. The college took 24 under-16s last year, and expects to now take 40 more. “If a child is on our roll, we are responsible for them. That means attendance monitoring, taking their parents to court for absences, like in schools. You’re also responsible for their welfare. We have to provide free school meals, and we have to remember that we’re a very big college with lots of open doors.”

While some colleges were initially deterred from recruiting under-16s by fears that younger students would need their own outside space and wouldn’t be able to walk around freely because of safety concerns, this isn’t true, says Graham Towse, principal at Hull College. But there are practical issues for colleges – such as the need for a dedicated indoor area for under-16s – and they come at a cost.

But there was no upfront funding attached to the new policy…

The requirement to deliver the national curriculum – on top of vocational education – means colleges must recruit additional teaching staff without necessarily knowing if they will have any students.

But recruiting students can be a sensitive issue; some colleges are nervous of being accused of “poaching” from schools, says Mercer. Andy Gannon – from the 157 Group, a consortium of 29 of the UK’s largest FE colleges – says that the underlying problem is that “some schools see the themselves in competition with colleges”…

More at: Why aren’t colleges welcoming 14-year-olds?


Your thoughts on the idea of more FE colleges taking on 14 and 15 year olds? What are the benefits of this over them just going to school? Please let us know in the comments or via Twitter…


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Categories: Further Education and Secondary.


  1. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove Surely this has potential benefits for students, schools & FE colleges in providing the best provision for some. Co-operate!

  2. lennyvalentino

    SchoolsImprove *huge* safety/supervision implications – but if colleges can do this I would expect high take up – a worry for schools.

  3. MatthewRHead

    SchoolsImprove it takes time to introduce properly so more colleges will come over time. Also a new market when existing budgets a tight

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