Measure college success by social outcomes as well as students’ jobs, report says

Colleges should choose social outcomes for learners like confidence or making friends, the think tank says

Colleges should choose social outcomes for learners like confidence or making friends, the think tank says


New accountability measures for colleges should be extended to cover learners’ social as well as employment outcomes, the Learning and Work Institute (L&W) has recommended. 

A new report commissioned by the Association of Colleges (AoC), Focus on results: How a greater focus on outcomes could contribute to England’s learning and skills systems, is looking to build on the government’s plans to judge providers on outcomes. 

Report author and the institute’s chief executive Stephen Evans said the proposals, outlined in the Skills for Jobs white paper, “need to go further” and they want to “see social outcomes included alongside economic outcomes”. 

Under the Department for Education’s white paper proposals, ringfencing and reporting requirements would be relaxed for providers. They would instead have to plan delivery around local employer need and possibly scale back oversupplied provision. 

Under the L&W’s proposals, colleges could choose social outcomes to measure including students’ mental wellbeing, the number of social contacts or groups they join, or their confidence.  

This will build on the proposals in the white paper, currently being turned into law through the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, for providers to be held accountable for employment outcomes for their learners.  

“Measuring key economic and social outcomes builds the evidence for increased and sustained investment and the case for greater flexibility in delivery,” the report reads. 

It recommends a total of four outcomes to be measured:  

  1. employment six months after completion;  
  1. median earnings six months after completion;  
  1. progression to further learning six months after completion;  
  1. social outcomes; and meeting employer need. 

For social outcomes, the L&W says learners’ confidence could be measured by assessing how much people believe they can achieve their goals, despite difficulties; social capital could be measured by looking at how many friends a learner makes or social groups they join through their learning. 

These would be measured at a provider and local level for all participants and for priority groups, like the long-term workless and those living in deprived areas. This data would then be compared to a national average. 

The report wants added value measures, such as comparisons with outcomes in areas with a similar economy, to be developed. 

International comparisons  

The L&W has backed up its recommendations with evidence from Australia, Canada, Ireland and the USA. 

Australia has a National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development which focuses on outcomes, including aiming to halve the proportion of 20 to 64-year-olds without a level 3, as well as improving skills, opportunities and training opportunities. 

Ireland has a Further Education and Training Strategy which identifies six outcome measures: finding work after a course; progressing to other learning; certification at levels 1-3; learners aged 25-64; key skills qualifications; and new apprenticeship and traineeships.  

Labour market and skills agreements 

The L&W argues for Labour market and skills agreements (LMSAs) between national and local government, identifying priorities for those areas, devolved budgets, types of provision eligible for funding, analysis of target groups, outcome measures, and a strategy for evaluating impact. 

Each college and large provider should then have an outcome agreement which would include funding for three years and detail expectations against the four outcomes. 

AoC chief executive David Hughes said it was “appropriate” for college accountability systems to cover a wider array of outcomes. He voiced support for an outcomes-based funding model before the education select committee in September 2020, saying it would be better than using “bums on seats”. 

Today he said an outcomes-based system, combined with simplified multi-year funding and joined-up policymaking, “would lead to high-quality opportunities for all, stronger communities and better economic growth”. 

He added: “The fundamental pitfall that I hope the government avoids is to look solely at wage outcomes, as if that does anything to measure the impact of colleges.  

“Working with colleges and other stakeholders in developing a new approach is essential to get this right.” 

A DfE spokesperson was “grateful” to the L&W “for their contribution to the discussion on how we create an improved funding and accountability system for further education”.  

They said the DfE’s consultation on FE funding and accountability was ongoing until 7 October and welcomes responses, which the department will “consider carefully, adapting our proposals as needed, and will set out our approach in more detail in due course”. 

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