Learner destination worries over homepage proposals

Concerns about the tracking of learner destinations have emerged with a new consultation on plans for colleges and schools to show key performance data on their website home pages.

Association of Colleges policy director Joy Mercer said she had worries about the Department for Education (DfE) proposals.

The DfE launched a consultation on Friday, June 6, for at-a-glance post-16 measures to be carried on college home pages to include students’ progress in academic subjects or Tech Levels as well as students’ average grades in each category.

Colleges and school sixth forms would also be expected to show the progress made by students who joined them without a C in English and/or maths, what proportion of their students drop out, and what proportion of their students go on to further study, a job or training at the end of their courses (when data is robust enough).

Ms Mercer said: “We are pleased to see a consultation on headline measures, because they were not part of the original consultation on changes to performance tables from 2016.

“It is very important these new headline measures are accessible to parents and potential students because all colleges will have to publish them as a condition of funding. However independent learning providers, which are also publicly funded, will not.

“We remain concerned that the headline measures using current national data, causes a particular problem for colleges in the way information on student destinations and progress is collected. This is something we’ve raised with the DfE.”

The consultation ends on July 4 with the proposals expected to come into force from 2016.

Current guidelines already require schools to publish information on performance. However, where and how this information is presented varies between schools and colleges. A DfE spokesperson said this made it “difficult and time-consuming” for parents to find information. Up until now colleges have not been required to publish evidence of their performance online.

James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges’ Association, said: “The idea of schools and colleges publishing standard performance measures on their websites is a good one.

“But the data behind these measures must be robust. We would not want a situation where colleges are required to include measures on their websites based on incomplete or inaccurate data.

“The performance measures selected must also be the right ones. The five proposed in the consultation are important, and we are particularly pleased with the inclusion of a progress measure. But it must also be possible to link to make comparisons using more granular data if required. For example, using the proposed attainment measure, 80 per cent of sixth form colleges would have an average grade per academic entry of a C+, C, or C-.
“It is essential that the detail behind this proposal is thoroughly worked through before colleges are required to include performance information on their websites.”

The DfE proposals also affect primary schools, who will have to show pupils’ progress from age four to 11, among other things. And secondary schools will have to show pupils’ progress from age 11 to 16, including average grades across eight subjects.

Schools Minister David Laws said: “The information that will be published online by every school and college in future will support parents when choosing the best school or college for their child and help them challenge poor performance.”