Quit the excuses and listen to those not attending

Many colleges are nervously counting 16-18 year-old learners in and out of classes this week, totting up the totals and making judgements about whether or not they are below, on or above recruitment targets.

 When 16 year-old enrolments do not materialise into attendance the same excuses are rolled out at this time every year. The two classics are: “learners enrolled at lots of colleges and have followed their mates elsewhere”, and “those pesky schools have clung onto them”.

 There are now two new excuses to consider this year. Firstly, there is of course the scrapping of the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) to blame for putting learners off.

 But what if in reality the EMA has had limited impact on recruitment. After all, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) research found that “65 out of every 69 individuals aged 16 who are eligible for the EMA would have stayed in education without the payment.”

 The EMA only rewarded regular attendance, so it’s not recruitment but retention and achievement rates which are most likely to suffer. As the IFS goes on to say: “those who receive EMA and would have stayed in education regardless of it might still benefit educationally through other channels: for example through better attendance, or more study time as a result of not having to take on a part-time job.”

 Then there is the geographic and demographics excuse. The Treasury have long been predicting a decline in the number of 16-18 year-olds, and for the first time we saw a significant reduction in the overall number of 16-18 year-olds planned by the Young People’s Learning Agency (YPLA). Yet this should have been taken into account when the YPLA set final allocation targets.

 In reality missing targets is more likely owing to the curriculum not being as attractive as the neighbouring college and student services failing basic customer service standards.

 Colleges failing to hit recruitment targets need to quickly call those that are not attending and act on what they are told.