Learner survey dodge as some refuse to participate

The FE Choices survey into student satisfaction isn’t worth the bother, according to one of the country’s largest colleges – which has refused to take part.

The Skills Funding Agency published the results of its annual learner satisfaction poll in June, showing that private providers were more popular amongst learners than colleges, scoring 89.6 per cent, rated 9.2 per cent higher than colleges, at 80.4 per cent.

The percentages reflected the median score for 189 colleges and 276 private training providers, with feedback counted in the data.

Survey results will also now be used in a new online tool for the first time from this year, to help employers choose apprenticeship providers.

But Karen Dobson, principal of the 9,000-student Newcastle-under-Lyme College, claimed her organisation had stopped participating because it had a “limited purpose”.

She told FE Week: “We no longer participate in the FE Choices survey as we found the task was becoming increasingly labour-intensive and there is limited awareness of its presence and purpose amongst our core target audience.

“We have a number of larger, more efficient college-led surveys in place which allow us to benchmark performance and student satisfaction.”

The SFA’s survey is designed to “capture learners’ experiences” of their college or training provider through questions ranging from “how satisfied or dissatisfied are you with the teaching on your course?” to “how likely is it that you would recommend the college to friends or family?”

Another large college which did not complete the survey in 2015/16 was City of Bristol College, which caters for around 25,000 learners.

A spokesperson told FE Week that the timing of the SFA’s survey “coincided with a period of significant change at the college, including staff changes at all levels”, which meant the college missed the completion deadline.

Meanwhile neither Lambeth College, which educates more than 11,000 learners, nor the Manchester College, which has more than 25,000 students, managed to “provide enough data” to award a score in the survey despite their large size.

Neither college was able to comment by the time of publication.


Of the colleges that did take part in the survey, Stanmore College scored the lowest, with a score of 51.6 per cent.

A spokesperson said that the college’s “disappointing” response rate (14 per cent) does not “fully reflect the view of students”.

Barnfield College, in Luton scored the second lowest with a score of 57.1 per cent.

A spokesperson said it “was in the midst of difficult and challenging times” at the time of the survey, but recent internal surveys revealed a “positive shift in our learners’ experience”.

North Warwickshire and Hinckley College was the third lowest college with a score of 61 per cent.

A spokesperson said it was a “disappointing result” and put it down to working as part of a federation with South Leicestershire College during 2015/16.

Tameside College in Manchester scored the fourth lowest at 64.2 per cent, but said its low response rate – 19 per cent – “doesn’t not reflect the positive feedback we receive from the significant majority” of students.

South Essex College was the fifth lowest with a 66 per cent score, but pointed to a response rate of 18 per cent.

A spokesperson told FE Week the SFA’s survey is “very limited and does not accurately portray student satisfaction with most colleges having a low response rate”.