Colleges under fire in social mobility commission report

A hard-hitting report by the government’s social mobility commission has attacked college performance and recommended funding for employment outcomes rather than recruitment.

The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission’s 348-page document concluded: “Current policies are likely to be insufficient to address entrenched and unacceptably high levels of youth unemployment and inactivity.”

It had used damning Ofsted statistics to paint a bleak picture of colleges while calling for a wide range of changes.

Among its ten recommendations was that “colleges in the future be paid by the results they achieve for their students in the labour market and not the numbers they recruit”.

It received short shrift from Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders.

He said: “There are number of factors that influence how well students fare in the labour market, the obvious ones being the local economy and the career they aspire to.

“While colleges do all they can to prepare students for the world of work, they cannot be held responsible for finding jobs for them and it is unreasonable to suggest that this be used to hold them to account.”

It further suggested a “participation payment” for young people doing traineeships.

It said: “The government should consider introducing a youth credit (or participation payment), conditional on their participation in high quality work-related support and educational programmes, perhaps along the lines of current traineeships (with funding drawn out of the Bursary Fund and Child Benefit for 16 and 17-years-olds and out of Jobseeker’s Allowance for the over-18s).”

And on funding, it said: “Reforms to vocational qualifications look positive, though there remains inadequate information on courses and apprenticeships, and too little support for non-academic routes. There is also excessive complexity in local funding.”

Meanwhile, the commission, chaired by former Labour Health Secretary Alan Milburn, used Ofsted inspections to further criticise the sector.

“Ofsted inspection data lays bare the challenges for the sector, including the fact that at the end of August 2012, 1.5 million learners in the post-16 learning and skills sector were in provision that was rated less than good,” said the report, published on Thursday.

It added: “There is a need to have a far greater focus on improving the quality of further education provision, which is the largest provider of education to those who do not do well at school.”

Lynne Sedgmore, executive director of the 157 Group, hit back at the report’s findings.

She said: “Relying heavily on a snapshot of Ofsted data from more than a year ago does not provide sound enough basis for critiquing the social inclusion that colleges undertake.

“The report is missing the point of the critical work done by colleges that needs to be looked at more closely and comprehensively.

“The rich offering of FE to social mobility has been under-acknowledged in this important report.”

She added: “We support the report’s emphasis on quality as we strive for world class standards while remaining focused on the needs of the learner.

“We have long argued for a more intelligent accountability framework that includes destinations, value added and distance travelled as well as employer and learner feedback.”

The Association of Colleges declined to comment.

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Editorial: Young deserve better

The social mobility commission’s report should serve as a wake-up call to government, not a bat with which to beat colleges.

The commission is right to point out that, “current policies are likely to be insufficient to address entrenched and unacceptably high levels of youth unemployment and inactivity”.

For example, it is mind-blowing that there is no funding incentive for a traineeship provider to actually progress trainees into work.

It is also shocking that while 16 to 18 apprenticeship funding goes unspent, colleges, as previously reported by FE Week, are turning away potential 16 to 18 trainees in favour of 19 to 23-year-olds because there’s no money left for the younger age group.

And the Skills Funding Agency’s ‘job outcome payment’ for adults is a farce because it can only be paid out to providers when learners either fail their qualifications or walk away early — providing they’ve won employment.

But if your learner passes their qualification and gets a job there’s no such payment.

So there are some simple solutions that the Skills Minister can act on immediately.

Firstly, the ringfence on 16 to 18 apprenticeship funding needs to be loosened to enable colleges to access funding specifically for traineeships.

Secondly, a new single funding system for all 16 to 23-year-old traineeships that incorporates payment by results in 2014/15.

Thirdly, the agency should consult immediately on scrapping its pathetic attempt at a job outcome payment. The sector needs a funding system that fully incentivises positive adult progression.

None of this is particularly difficult and, frankly, it’s too important for all our futures to ignore.

Nick Linford, editor