The pre-general election AoC manifesto makes a number of requests to the next Government. Richard Atkins outlines the key points and underlying message.

With just six months to go to the General Election, this period of time is crucial for general FE and sixth form colleges.

The AoC has set out its stall of recommendations for the next Government in its manifesto for colleges.

We hope future ministers will take FE seriously, and make decisions that help, rather than hinder colleges and their students.

Our priorities are simple — supporting student choice; sustaining economic recovery through education and training; and creating a fair and effective education system.

Fairness is the name of the game. It is simply not right that the budget available for a student aged 16 to18 is so much lower than a school pupil. It’s the first step on the road to a future career or to university.

Education policy has moved on, young people must stay in education or training until they are 18, but the system hasn’t caught up. Therefore the post-2015 Government should carry out a once-in-a-generation review of the way education is funded to help make spending fair across all age groups.

Pupils at school are supported to travel to and from school, but once they leave school and attend college, a whole new set of less favourable rules apply. The rules need updating to ensure that local authorities carry out a full assessment of 16 to 18 students’ travel needs.

Young people should choose where they want to study based on the course they want to do, rather than the distance from home.

Poor careers advice means young people are often not aware of the best option to choose and are, instead, urged to stay in school to study A-levels when that isn’t necessarily appropriate.

A big chunk of what we’re asking for comes back to funding. We make no apology for this

We’re campaigning for a careers hub in every local area, managed by local enterprise partnerships (Leps) and supported by schools, colleges, universities, Jobcentre Plus and local authorities, to make sure the advice is impartial and young people (and adults) have access to all the options available.

Business leaders keep telling us that there aren’t enough skilled workers for the jobs available and colleges take this very seriously. They already provide support with apprenticeships, but we need to make sure the Government doesn’t focus on them as the magic pill.

In AoC’s recent member survey about their relationship with employers, 80 per cent said it was difficult to get employers to take young people on traineeships and 36 per cent said the same about apprenticeships. Some young people aren’t ready to take an apprenticeship. Instead, we need a pre-apprenticeship scheme which adequately prepares people for the workplace.

The Government’s requirement that all young people aged 16 to 18 continue studying maths and English is absolutely right, and colleges support this.

But we are clear that it is not in all students’ best interests to be required to re-take the same GCSEs that they took at school over and over again. For many students, Functional Skills are appropriate and successful. For others, colleges need to assess the ability and potential of each student before guiding them to a GCSE re-sit, or to an alternative post-16 English or maths qualification.

Therefore, the next Government should work with businesses, large public sector employers such as the NHS and local councils, and colleges to develop new maths and English qualifications, which are rigorous and related to the world of work.

A big chunk of what we’re asking for comes back to funding. We make no apology for this. We say to government — stop singling out 16 to 18 students for all your cuts to the education budget. The AoC Manifesto offers solutions.

If we want to prepare our young people to work in a global economy in which skills are at a premium, we must argue clearly and consistently that the next Government takes on board these recommendations so that England develops the best technical and professional education system among all of the countries within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.