The law will change to give “equality” to technical education in careers advice in schools and religious sixth form colleges will finally be able to academise under government plans announced today.
Ministers are also moving to criminalise the use of unscrupulous “essay mills” – where cheat essays are provided to students for money.
All three measures will feature as government amendments in the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill which is currently making its way through the House of Lords.
It is unclear at this stage exactly how careers advice laws will be changed beyond the Technical and Further Education Act 2017, known as the Baker Clause.
The 2017 legislation says a school “must ensure that there is an opportunity for a range of education and training providers to access pupils for the purpose of informing them about approved technical education qualifications or apprenticeships”.
And careers advice guidance already states that “schools and colleges must explain technical education routes alongside academic routes and should not attempt to promote HE as a better or more favourable route than FE or apprenticeships”.
Lord Baker, the architect behind the Baker Clause, previously told FE Week he was seeking to amend the Skills Bill to put the clause on a statutory footing. He said he wanted to make this a “legal duty” on schools, which could be taken to court if they fail to comply.
He complained the 2017 act has been “largely disregarded” by schools up until now.
A Department for Education press release about today’s announcement only said: “The law will be changed to give equality to technical education in careers advice in schools, so all pupils understand the wide range of career routes and training available to them, such as apprenticeships, T Levels or traineeships, not just a traditional academic route.”
A DfE spokesperson later clarified the department is “seeking to strengthen the provider access legislation to make it clearer what the requirement to allow access to providers of technical education or apprenticeships should mean in practice”.
They added that the process for monitoring compliance and enforcement will be “covered in the updated statutory guidance which will be published at least one term before the strengthened legislation comes into force”.
Religious SFCs able to academise after years of campaigning
Nearly all sixth form colleges have been able to convert to academy status, and in doing so enjoy the luxury of not paying VAT, since former chancellor George Osborne changed the rules in November 2015.
But a group of 14 SFCs which are Catholic-run have been prevented from doing so due to their religious character, which would not be maintained under current government rules. If they converted, they would lose protections in areas of curriculum, acts of worship and governance.
The DfE has finally found a solution to safeguard religious character. Today’s announcement said: “Additional measures being introduced to the Bill include enabling sixth form colleges with a religious faith designation to become a 16 to 19 academy, boosting diversity in 16 to 19 academies and allowing more faith school providers to open 16 to 19 academies with a religious character.”
James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges’ Association, said he was “delighted” with the news.
“To date, 28 (SFCs) have converted, but our 14 Catholic sixth form colleges have been unable to do so while also retaining their religious character.
“The Skills Bill will make academisation an option for these institutions and we expect all of the Catholic sixth form colleges to now explore this option in more detail.”
Essay mills ‘completely unethical’
Essay mills are services offering to provide students with essays for money – an issue that is usually found in universities but also sometimes in colleges with higher education provision.
The government said today it “intends to make it a criminal offence to provide, arrange or advertise these cheating services for financial gain to students taking a qualification at any institution in England providing post-16 education, including universities”.
This is hoped to help “safeguard the academic integrity and standards of post-16 and higher education in England and protect students from falling prey to the deceptive marketing techniques of contract cheating services”.
New skills minister Alex Burghart said: “Essay mills are completely unethical and profit by undermining the hard work most students do. We are taking steps to ban these cheating services.
“We have also announced a new measure to make sure all young people receive broader careers guidance so everyone can get the advice that’s right for them.”
The Skills Bill enters its report stage in the House of Lord on 12 October.