When Professor Wolf published her report in March 2011 she made a number of key recommendations that would crystallise the role of further education colleges in becoming a real option for young people at 14.
Of course the caveats that there should be a focus on quality, that the curriculum should be balanced with meaningful academic and vocational qualifications being studied, and that parents and students should know about the equivalencies all applied. But ostensibly this was a report to be welcomed within the sector.
The Hull College Group has been expanding its role in delivering high quality education to young people from age 14. In an average week the group of colleges, across Hull, Goole and Harrogate engages some 1500 14-16 year olds in learning.
Inevitably the college caters for those young people who for a number of reasons have decided that school is not for them; but is increasingly becoming a real option for young people to select as a full time route and is not a last chance opportunity.
In 2011 the college welcomed almost 80 year 10 pupils full time from the east of the city of Hull, following the planned closure of their secondary school. In partnership with the local authority the college has developed a diverse range of academic and vocational programmes for this group of students.
The students, who have branded themselves the ‘Energy League’ linked to the Humber’s focus on renewables, engage in all of the core national curriculum subjects as well as having been able to select a vocational option of their choice. When asked, Energy League students described their experience as ‘awesome!’.
The students in the Energy League however are not registered at the college since there is ambiguity in the legal framework for registering students pre-16; something we hope the Department for Education will make a positive announcement on imminently.
The Group will be opening a Studio School on its Hull site in September 2012, creating opportunities for even more young people to experience this rich, but balanced learning offer.
The Group expects this to widen opportunities and choices for alternative full time learning routes at 14; young people currently have this choice reserved until they reach 16.
Are these the approaches Wolf had in mind when she recommended that colleges should be enabled to enrol young people pre-16, offering them a full key stage four programme?
Studio schools will provide a great opportunity for young people at 14 to engage with a curriculum focusing on employability, work placed learning alongside a focus on core GCSEs in English and Maths. It sounds very closely aligned to the role that many colleges play in their community already.
Arguably, as we expect young people to remain in learning for longer, we should equally enable them to choose their pathway much sooner, increasing the opportunity for that choice to have maximum impact.
The studio school will be a separate arm of the college, with its own legal structure; but will of course be able to benefit from the excellent physical facilities and shared services on site.
The Hull College Group welcomes the 157 Group report on information advice and guidance and hopes that emerging policy will fully take account of the need for all young people making life changing choices have the information they need to do so.
We’re confident with the right information and our existing track record in delivery, young people will definitely see their local FE college as their first choice at 14 full-time.
Gary Warke is deputy chief executive and deputy principal of Hull College Group