Students should be able to study what interests them, instead of the subjects the system prefers them to pursue, writes Aaliyah Kennedy
Further education is a huge player in so many lives. Every young person must stay in education or training until they are 18 years old, and what they do here contributes hugely to what they may progress to.
I have a confession. I long for there to be more choice of subjects in FE. As a former FE student, I know that a large breadth of options allows future generations like mine to widen their experience and minds.
A broad choice of courses allows learners to explore who they want to be, rather than what the system wants them to be.
But sometimes students like me aren’t able to continue studying a modern foreign language at college, or can’t access the international baccalaureate, which I was lucky enough to do but isn’t widely available in FE.
I think the limit on subjects is partly due to government cuts. Funding per student aged 16 to 18 fell by 14 per cent in real terms between 2010 and 2019. Even with the money announced at the recent spending review, college spending per student in 2024 will still be around ten per cent lower than in 2010.
Only since 2020/21 has the rate increased to £4,188 for full-time students. But this is not enough. The Association of School and College Leaders is calling for the funding rate to be increased to at least £4,760 per student so that it is in line with inflation. For 16- and 17-year-olds, it is due to rise to £4,542 from August.
I’m on a mission to improve education across England with my campaign called Reshaping OUR Education. We completely agree with ASCL’s statement.
For myself, I think proper funding would allow FE institutions to offer more of the subjects I would like to have learned. For me, this included French and law, which weren’t on offer at my college.
I could have developed my French from GCSE, alongside my other college courses which were an international baccalaureate in global politics and also in history, a WJEC diploma in criminology and a BTEC in business. The availability of French especially would have allowed me to develop more of my interests before considering higher education.
I couldn’t continue French at my college
From my personal experience, the international baccalaureate is amazing. It contributed to the confidence, resilience and skills I now have. I did the international baccalaureate careers-related program (IBCP), and there is also the IB diploma programme and partial IB.
The IB allows you to explore a subject in real depth and prepares you for life post-18. It includes aspects that fit well with further education; for example, I learnt how to work independently and as a team through project work and charity events.
In terms of studying a subject further, the global politics IB especially helps you understand the real world better. Whereas the normal A-level politics focuses more on British politics, this was a much broader curriculum of the study of power and sovereignty which is more applicable to the international world we live in.
You also deliver a project on an issue that you care about, which is where Reshaping OUR Education stemmed from! This was the engagement activity in the IB that takes students outside of the classroom.
I wish more FE colleges offered the IB, and I wish I’d been able to study French and law at college too. It would have connected my courses closer together and it might have made me consider a career as a human rights lawyer.
More FE colleges should consider the IB as a model as it opens up pathways for learners. I know that Bridgwater & Taunton College in Somerset offers the IB; but not many colleges offer it in comparison to the total number of colleges.
Cuts have meant many FE institutions have been unable to provide more of a variety of courses, or in some cases courses have also been withdrawn.
I really hope that in future more FE colleges can offer a wide and diverse set of subjects.