The Shadow minister for Education has “disappointed” FE leaders after casting doubt on colleges’ ability to “care and support” 14-year-olds recruited full-time from schools.
Labour MP Karen Buck’s comments came at AoC’s annual conference when she was asked if she supported government proposals that could see pupils directly funded to complete a mixture of GCSEs and vocational qualifications at FE colleges.
“One of the things that worries me, and the conference may shout me down, is that there is sometimes a risk that very young people going into college may not get the full pastoral care and support they would want,” said Ms Buck.
The shadow minister’s comments were received with boos and came just a day after FE Minister Matthew Hancock declined to give a firm answer on when this proposal might go ahead.
Gary Warke, deputy principal at Hull College which recently took on 80 14-year-olds full-time, said youngsters “absolutely had the right to the full range of vocational courses” available in FE.
“We have been a major champion of this and have taken on full-time 14-year-olds who have gained confidence and progression moving forward after coming to us.”
He said Hull College had provided assembly and sports access, religious education and secure playgrounds.
“They have loved it,” he said of the young recruits.
“They get treated like an adult and have access to a broad provision of courses otherwise not available.”
Marian Plant, principal of North Warwickshire and Hinckley College, said she “absolutely disagreed” with Ms Buck and could “show absolute evidence to the contrary.”
College leaders will still have to wait for a date when the recruitment proposal might go ahead.
“We are working on plans for colleges directly recruiting pupils aged 14 and 15 to be directly funded,” Mr Hancock said in a speech on Tuesday.
When pushed on the matter, he said: “Hopefully we will hear in the next two months.”
He said he understood September 2013 deadlines loomed and added “we will have an answer by then.”
Colleges have continued to lobby the government. An Association of Colleges (AoC) spokesperson said the need for this change had been a “key point” of their manifesto.
Martin Doel, chief executive of the AoC, said: This is something we and our members are very keen to work towards. But: if this is to happen, it needs to happen quickly. This was a key recommendation of the Wolf Report and colleges are well-placed to deliver high quality provision to young people in this age group.”
In her report Alison Wolf recommended the government “make explicit the legal right of colleges to enrol students under 16 and ensure that funding procedures make this practically possible”.
The 14-16 Implementation Group, made-up of AoC, Department for Education (DfE) and Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) representatives, has been working with DfE and has produced recommendations that have gone to the Secretary of State and Ministers.