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Further Education augurs well in the Augar Review!

09 July 2019 - Rosemary French OBE

After 10 years as an FE College Governor, struggling with insufficient, inflexible spending on adult skills which has fallen by 45% in real terms in the past 10 years, it is encouraging to read the recommendations of the Augar Review of Post 18 Education and Funding. The FE College sector has been the Cinderella of our education sector for too long.  Much of the funding actually works against social mobility; there is not enough apprenticeship funding for small businesses, driving Colleges towards the large companies Apprenticeship Levy; where FE colleges are not recognised for their teaching of students with quite significant learning difficulties to cope with life, even for work; and how Colleges have been starved of capital expenditure to bring their dilapidated estates up to anywhere near a decent standard. 

The first recommendation is to rationalise the FE Sector and to dedicate capital investment.  Rationalising was already recommended and implemented following the nationwide 2016 Area Reviews.  Many have succeeded but with difficulty when there has been little funding to help them merge. Where Colleges were already financially stable, they were able to collaborate.  Those truly struggling colleges were left like wall flowers at a party, contemplating where to find a suitor! As for capital investment a little has been drip fed through the local Enterprise Partnerships to dangle tantalisingly in a feeding frenzy of bidding where most Colleges fail to be awarded anything.

The Augar panel wants to bring back full funding, at all ages, for both levels 2 and 3 and to increase the core funding rates for 18 year olds to equal those of 16-17 year olds.  So right.  How else can we encourage those who failed at school to enter or retrain for work at an older age? Especially, in the care and nursing sector where we are desperate to attract more adult students.

I have always supported funding Degree Apprenticeship because students can train on the job in a real workplace, acquiring those workplace skills, that so many employers claim are lacking in graduates.  But I admit I had not realised that large employers were cleverly beating the system by using the Apprenticeship Levy for workers who had already achieved a degree.  It would be a real shame if this poor behaviour meant funding for Degree Apprenticeships was dropped for young people who do not want to go to university, whether for financial or family reasons.

I have seen for myself how difficult it is for FE Colleges to recruit skilled staff when they cannot match salaries of businesses, Universities and even schools.  So, it is excellent to note that the review recommends that Investment in the FE workforce should be a ‘priority’ to enable them to attract and retain the best staff. 

The report goes on to talk about how the Government should improve data collection; how FE colleges should have ‘a protected title’ to reduce confusion and to instil confidence (currently anyone can call themselves a college); Ofsted should become the lead responsible body for inspecting all apprenticeships; that ESFA funding rules should be simplified; and government should provide an indicative adult education budget which would let colleges plan and budget over a three-year period, instead of the annual hand-to-mouth financial regime currently.  

I really do applaud the Philip Augar Review and fingers crossed that post Brexit, government implements these recommendations and that this Review does not lie in a civil servant’s drawer.

First published in South East Business, June 2019

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