Bromley College was one of nine colleges given permission to enrol 14 and 15-year-olds full-time this September, in addition to six from last year. Sam Parrett outlines how the college went about preparing for the task.

When the government announced in 2012 that FE colleges could recruit from the age of 14, I knew this was an ideal opportunity for us to consolidate our strong working relationship with local schools and we welcomed our first cohort of 85 year 10 students to our new 14 to 16 college this month.

They will study for a minimum of eight GCSEs, including a vocational component chosen from engineering, hair and beauty, hospitality and enterprise and motor vehicle studies.

We had on average two applicants for every place and if we had the space we would have considered taking more, such was the demand.

Bromley College is vocationally-focused and we have been teaching Year 10 Link and Increased Flexibility programme students under arrangements with local schools for many years.

I am absolutely clear that the real key to sound recruitment of 14 to 16 students is having good open and transparent relationships with local schools

We have been offering a GCSE retake programme for more than 15 years enrolling 500-plus students each year with considerable success.

We visited and worked closely with those colleges which started their recruitment in 2013, particularly Hull College, who were generous with their time and advice.

We have also benefitted from pilot work we did during 2013 with local schools
when I launched the idea at the Secondary Heads’ Forum there was overwhelming support for the development of a vocational 14 to 16 college. We then set up a 14 to 16 pilot, led by the college and a 14 to 16 partnership with senior college curriculum staff and school deputy heads — a forum for sharing ideas on curriculum, transitions, staffing and developing the environment.

We also recruited an experienced head teacher who advised on designing the curriculum offer and admissions process.

A 14 to 16 steering group was established, led by the deputy chair and joined by three further governors.

We identified buildings that we could convert and refurbish into a designated 14 to 16 college, which met with Department for Education (DfE) guidelines regarding safeguarding and provided students with common room facilities and dedicated classroom areas.

I am absolutely clear that the real key to sound recruitment of 14 to 16 students is having good open and transparent relationships with local schools.

Many of our local schools included the new Direct Recruit details in their year 9 Options booklets for parents and carers in addition to bringing students to taster events at the college.

In addition, we have had the full support of the local authority for this programme which it recognises will help deal with a shortage of more than 4,000 secondary school places in Bromley from 2016.

The 14 to 16 cohort will be funded by the Education Funding Agency in the same way as post-16 learners and the lagged funding presents financial complexities; the pre-16 learner is accessing almost double the amount of Guided Learning Hours over
the two-year programme. We have had to plan for this and manage our finances accordingly.

Of course we wish we were funded up front like a Free School or University Technical College, and that we had access to capital funds to support our development, but we aren’t, and we don’t.

The programme at Bromley 14-16 College embraces rigorous academic outcomes as well as embedding clear progression, vocationally, at level three and into our higher education programmes.

I have been delighted at how bright and highly motivated our students and their bold parents are about taking on a skills education at 14. Our Skills not School website hit the right note with them.

We look forward to a year of success and achievement by our new year 10s and wish all colleges entering the direct recruitment market a good year.


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