‘Why won’t Hinds give colleges more credit?’

There were some brave, if overdue, points made in education secretary Damian Hinds’ speech on social mobility this week. He admitted that the record number of disadvantaged students going to university doesn’t look quite so impressive when you examine which universities they’re going to. He acknowledged that there are different interpretations of social mobility; an intelligent counter to the vogue of perverse arguments that if you can’t help everyone you shouldn’t help anyone. Much was made of him addressing “the last taboo in education”; that parents also have a responsibility and a role to play. However, the blind spot in the secretary of state’s vision was his failure to recognise the role of colleges as the true engines of social mobility. Tes reports.

In his speech, Damian Hinds mentioned apps three times, nurseries and early years 10 times, he mentioned parents 20 times, universities 26 times, and schools no fewer than 30 times. He mentioned colleges just once. It’s therefore little surprise that FE is first in line for the budget cuts announced by the Treasury within a day of his speech.

A recent report by the Education Policy Institute showed that there are 25 per cent more disadvantaged students in colleges than in school sixth forms, and that colleges are disproportionately serving the most disadvantaged. To omit FE from the narrative of social mobility is to wilfully ignore the facts of who is actually working with economically-disadvantaged young people. It also highlights the inherent bias in the political class that will see them forever flogging retrograde solutions based on their own nostalgia rather than celebrating and embracing the exceptional dynamism of colleges.

To be fair to Hinds, there were some mentions of things that colleges do in his speech, he just couldn’t quite say the actual C-word. He reaffirmed the government’s commitment to T levels and assured parity with A levels. Given last week’s slip by minister Anne Milton, undermining the 50 colleges working hard to prepare for the launch of T-levels by admitting she would advise her own child against them, Hinds will need to do more to restore trust. He also made a throwaway reference to the “number of 19-year-olds without GCSEs in English and maths” being at “a record low”. I guess a word-count-conscious intern might have cut the bit that thanked college English and maths resit teachers for their efforts helping with that despite being less-well resourced, having less curriculum time, and being paid less than schoolteachers.

Hinds claimed that T-levels will be “on a par with A levels” and I really hope he is right, but I’m not convinced it’s possible to achieve parity between the qualifications while colleges receive less funding than schools, while college teachers are paid less so that school teachers can be paid more, and while in such a wide-ranging speech on the mission of social mobility the secretary of state could barely bring himself to mention the sector that supports it the most.

Read the full article ‘Why won’t Hinds give colleges more credit?’

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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