The review, conducted by Philip Augar, says there is a “powerful” case for change in the FE sector that is subject to “inflexible” and administratively costly rules, and which in recent years has had its ability to innovate and plan for the long term “severely restricted” by the funding regime.
To improve the quality, capability, and capacity of the FE college network, Augar’s panel has made a number of recommendations for the government and stakeholders.
FE Week has pulled out the main proposals for FE.
1. The FE college ‘network’ should be ‘rationalised’ and given a dedicated capital investment
The review wants all learners to be within reach of high-quality provision, but says it has found examples of over-capacity in some areas and a lack of access to good-quality specialised provision in others.
The panel has recommended government promote, through the capital budget, partnerships, group structures, and specialisation to deliver a “national network of colleges”.
Small, local, colleges which are “vulnerable to shifts in demand” and are too small to employ adequate high-quality staff full-time in specialised areas, should be “integrated into groups”.
The report also recommends the government should provide FE colleges with a dedicated capital investment of £1 billion over the next spending review period, in addition to funding for T-levels, allocated in line with Industrial Strategy priorities.
2. All adults should be entitled to their first level 2 and 3 qualifications for free
Participation in study for both levels 2 and 3 has fallen in recent years, the report said, despite the “financial benefits they can provide for post-18 students”.
The panel believes the drop is due to the changes to funding in 2012-13 and 2013-14, which meant adults could no longer claim full funding for courses at either level. Currently, only those aged 19 to 23 have their first full level 2 and 3 qualification fully funded.
So, the Augar panel wants to bring back full funding, at all ages, for both levels 2 and 3 to remove barriers in social mobility and productivity and to allow people to meet changes in economic demand.
3. The reduction in the core funding rate for 18-year-olds should be reversed
Augar could find “no evidence” to justify the lower base rate set for 18-year-olds in colleges, compared to that for 16-17-year-olds, saying many of them had difficulties in their earlier education, and may need more teaching hours, rather than less.
The number of adults who do not progress past the levels they achieved by the age of 18 is “one of the most disturbing aspects of England’s current 18+ provision,” the report says.
“Addressing this is a matter of some importance to the individuals concerned, to social progression and to the needs of the economy,” it continues.
Currently, 18 year olds have an unweighted base rate of £3,300 compared to £4,000 for 16 and 17 year olds.
4. ESFA funding rules should be simplified and government should commit to providing an indicative adult education budget
The review panel said colleges need greater flexibility in terms of spending.
It suggests going about this by having the ESFA reduce the extent to which it focuses on the ringfencing of funds for policy priorities like universally free provision of basic skills, and allowing colleges to transfer their budgets between years.
This is intended to tackle situations where colleges are underspending their budgets, as they can only allocate funds to tackle areas of local demand if it fits with funding rules.
The government should instead commit to providing an indicative AEB which lets colleges plan and budget over a three-year period, the report said.
5. Funding for level 6 apprenticeships and above should be available only for those who have not previously undertaken a publicly-supported degree
This recommendation follows warnings from the Institute for Apprenticeships and National Audit Office that the apprenticeship budget is at risk of being overspent in 2018-19, and calls by the Association of Employment and Learning Providers to stop levy funding for all level six and seven apprenticeships.
The review reiterates concerns from organisations such as Ofsted that employers are rebadging graduate schemes as higher-level apprenticeships to claim funds.
6. Investment in the FE workforce should be a ‘priority’
The panel’s vision for FE includes a greatly enlarged and professionalised FE workforce with clear progression routes and development opportunities, and encourages employee groups and the Association of Colleges to work with the government to achieve this.
However, the report adds the most “important barrier to workforce improvement is simply a lack of money”, as colleges currently cannot afford to match salaries in schools or HEIs.
“Our recommendations would, if accepted, improve colleges’ financial position and, therefore, their ability to attract and retain good staff,” the report said.
7. Government should improve data collection, collation, analysis and publication across FE
“We have been struck,” the report reads, “by the paucity of data available to the college sector compared to both higher education and schools”.
The review recommends better information is a basic precondition for improving college leadership and workforce management.
8. FE colleges should have a protected title like universities
The report says that although colleges are “established and well-known institutions in their towns and cities”, both the public at large and prospective learners have been left “confused by a succession of sometimes contradictory reforms and initiatives over recent decades”.
“They have resulted in institutions with an extremely broad focus, with no single defining purpose and with no consistent identity nationally, and we seek a means of restoring that,” it added.
Conferring a protected title on colleges, as universities are entitled to, would “instil confidence in potential learners that their chosen college and the courses it offers are part of a respected national adult education network”.
9. Ofsted should become the lead responsible body for inspecting apprenticeships at all levels
Augar’s report said the “complex environment” of apprenticeship regulation creates duplication, stretches the regulators involved, leaves gaps and risks poorer quality provision.
It wants all responsibility to be handed to Ofsted, meaning the Office for Students would no longer be the sole regulator for level 6 and 7 apprenticeships.