Changes to direct recruitment of 14 to 16-year-olds will not make it easier for colleges to qualify, the Education Funding Agency (EFA) said.

In a bulletin issued for colleges considering taking on younger learners in September, the EFA said eligibility requirements would be “unchanged other than for those colleges with an Ofsted overall effectiveness grade of three “satisfactory”.

But a spokesperson clarified it was a technical change, and said it would not make it easier for colleges to become eligible to take younger learners.

He said: “This relates to a minor technical adjustment that will only affect a small number of colleges. It will not make it any easier for colleges to qualify for direct enrolment of 14 16-year-olds.

“Previously, schools with satisfactory Ofsted ratings were assessed by comparing performance table improvements over four years. Our performance tables have now changed — meaning there are separate academic and vocational point scores.

“This widening of criteria means there will be greater understanding of how each school is performing. However, this adjustment means that the performance of the small number of ‘satisfactory’ [grade three and now termed ‘requires improvement’] colleges yet to be inspected under the new Ofsted framework cannot be easily compared.”

Joy Mercer (pictured), policy director at the Association of Colleges, said: “Changes to performance tables means there has to be a change in eligibility criteria.

“However, most colleges who were graded satisfactory before 2012 have now been re-inspected and will either have improved and are thus eligible, or been graded ‘requires improvement’ and are so ineligible. So we think there will hardly be any colleges affected by this clarification.”

The DfE has said that, as of May 28, it had received expressions of interest in direct recruitment from two colleges. The deadline for expressions is the end of this month. Last year, seven colleges enrolled 14 to 16-year-olds.

“The AoC was instrumental in securing the right for colleges to recruit students at 14, but it’s a very serious decision which colleges do not take lightly,” added Ms Mercer.

“We think that Ofsted overall effectiveness grades are not the best information to decide eligibility.

“Provision for this age group could have been graded as outstanding in the same inspection. The required self-assessment is a much better guide to readiness to recruit.”