As participating colleges get ready to take on learners from the age of 14, Graham Towse outlines his experiences as one of the few principals with a full academic year of the policy under his belt.

In September 2013 we welcomed our first intake of students to the HCUK 14-16 College.

This represented a new legal status for us as a college and followed recommendations by Alison Wolf that colleges be allowed to enrol students from age 14.

Our first year has been extremely successful — at our initial monitoring visit by Ofsted, we received the highest rating possible.

A series of strengths were identified, and the students were praised for their strong aspirational goals, and the progress they made since joining us.

We have also successfully managed the implementation of the changes to GCSEs, introduced nationally.

We begin our second year this September with a cohort of around 210 students across years 10 and 11 at Hull and Goole Colleges. This growth has driven the relocation of the 14 to 16 college to a larger, purpose-built standalone building, which is within the college campus and is exclusively for the use of the 14 to 16 college students.

Schools don’t like what we are doing mainly because we do not just accept students that schools wish to pass onto us

We have had to negotiate two key difficulties — the funding lag and obtaining Fischer Family Trust (FFT) data for our students.

The funding lag means we had to operate for the whole of the academic year without any funding at all, which had a significant impact on cash flow for the college. We are hoping that this will be addressed by the EFA for this year.

We have also faced significant delays in obtaining FFT Data — essentially our students’ transition data — from schools, as we are not officially classified as a school and therefore cannot access the data centrally.

We have had to request this data from the Local Authorities, which takes longer, delaying the essential process of ascertaining the individual needs of pupils early on in their learning programme. Unfortunately, the issue remains unresolved [click here for FE Week story on the resolution of this issue].

Our cohort has already expanded significantly, and we have capacity for up to 300 students in our new building.

We do plan to grow in the future — when that time comes, we will have the teaching capacity, having already recruited a dedicated 14 to 16 teaching and support team which will grow as the provision does.

Our vocational provision is bought in from Hull College, so we would not foresee satisfying growth as being a problem.

Our 14 to 16 students come from a spread of schools throughout the Hull and East Riding Area and some travel a significant distance to attend college.

A number of students travel from Withernsea every day, which is a 90-minute bus journey each way. We don’t tend to recruit in large clusters from individual schools, we’re more likely to take a handful of students from each school.

We have been clear in describing that our provision complements that which already exists locally within schools and academies.

What we offer does not compete directly with the schools, as nobody else offers the same vocational pathways as the 14 to 16 college.

We have maintained a strong relationship with many local schools and we still receive their students through our curriculum partnership model. It is true however, that some schools don’t like what we are doing mainly because we do not just accept students that schools wish to pass onto us.

All new entrants to the 14 to 16 college must apply for a place and must have the full backing of their parents.

For our own students, we continue to offer impartial information, advice and guidance regarding progression. The majority of our students will choose to follow an apprenticeship route, but we can also support them to study vocational FE, A-levels and beyond to a range of locally-available foundation degrees and degrees.

Security was a key consideration within the initial requirements for colleges wishing to enrol from age 14. We employ all the same safeguarding procedures that we do for post-16 provision.

As previously mentioned, our students are housed within a separate building which has swipe card entry, and a dedicated staffing team.

However, they are not locked in the building from 8.15am to 4pm. They have use of general communal areas within the main body of Hull and Goole Colleges if they wish, including refectories, library and resource centres.

Years 10 and 11 are all allowed off-site and into the city centre at lunchtime providing they have parental consent. While many Year 11s will choose to leave the site at lunch time, the Year 10s tend to stay within their building and use the dedicated social areas.

While the 14 to 16 college is a relatively new concept, Hull College has been teaching 14 to 16 students from schools on day release programmes and similar for a long time so has significant experience of managing younger pupils within the college environment.

Bromley College takes on 14-year-old learners for the first time this month. Click here for an expert piece by principal Sam Parrett.