The Department for Education has announced that from September 2013 colleges will be able to recruit 14-16 year olds direct without the need to do so through a written agreement with a school or local authority. The announcement and related documentation can be found by clicking here.

The Department for Education (DfE) announcement builds on the government’s commitment to implement the recommendations of the report on vocational training by Professor Alison Wolf.  Recommendation 19 of Professor Wolf’s report was to “make explicit the legal right of colleges to enrol students under 16 and ensure that funding procedures make this practically possible.  Colleges enrolling students in this age group should be required to offer them a full KS4 programme, either alone or in collaboration with schools, and be subject to the same performance monitoring regime (including performance indicators) as schools”.

Work on implementing this recommendation has been taken forward by the 14/16 College Implementation Group, led by Mike Hopkins, Principal of Middlesbrough College, and Tony Medhurst, Principal of Harrow College.  The group presented its key recommendations at a break-out session of the Association of Colleges’ national conference last month.

Does a college have the power to enrol 14-16 year old students direct?

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the DfE seem to have accepted the view of the College Implementation Group that further education corporations and sixth form college corporations have the power to enrol students who have reached the age of 14 direct, ie without having to do so under an agreement with a local authority or maintained school.  Eversheds agree with this view, although note that Section 18(1)(aa) Further and Higher Education Act 1992 gives this power to further education corporations (and Section 33E(1)(b) of the 1992 Act to sixth form college corporations) so long as the college has first consulted with such local authorities as it considers appropriate.  It may be desirable for a college intending to provide 14-16 education to have an agreement with the local authority to record how they will work together to ensure that the authority’s statutory responsibilities for education of students of compulsory school age are met.

Funding 14-16 provision

Currently there are no arrangements for a further education or sixth form college to be funded for the provision of full time secondary education to 14-16 year olds, although a college can be funded for part-time provision under arrangement with the local authority or school.  The DfE made it clear in its paper School Funding Reform:  Next steps towards a fairer system that direct funding of colleges for such full time provision will become possible from September 2013.  The recent DFE announcement now gives further details, including confirmation that until government makes decisions regarding a national funding formula for school, colleges will be funded under the post-16 funding methodology. The Pupil Premium will also be available for pupils entitled to it.

FE and sixth form colleges will need to meet the following criteria in order to receive funding for enrolling full time 14-16 year olds:

  • the college must be rated by Ofsted as outstanding, good or satisfactory but improving. Where the college is in the last two categories the proposal will need to be signed off by the principal and chair of governors. The college must not have received a Notice from a funding body.
  • there must be a dedicated 14-16 area within the college estate and separate 14-16 leadership.
  • The college will be subject to Ofsted inspection under the schools’ framework within two years of the 14-16 centre opening.

In addition the college will need to satisfy itself that it is able to meet all of the legal requirements and address any other issues in enrolling 14-16 year olds.  The College Implementation Group has produced a Readinesss to Open Self-Assessment questionnaire that colleges will have to use.  This focuses on the following six areas:

  • Admissions and exclusions – does the college have appropriate policies for 14-16 year olds, including rights to appeal to an independent body?
  • Leadership and staffing – are appropriate arrangements in place for teaching all statutory subjects, and to lead the 14-16 provision and to coordinate SEN provision?
  • Curriculum entitlement – does this cover all statutory subjects, including the EBacc and the statutory entitlement to RE and Sex Education?
  • Quality assurance – is there an appropriate MIS to track attendance and progress and robust self-assessment in place to drive up standards of teaching and learning?
  • Safeguarding – does the college have clear safeguarding policies and measures in place and an estate suitable for 14-16 year olds?
  • Student care, guidance, support and behaviour - is there sufficient entitlement and expertise and has the behaviour policy been reviewed to ensure that it is suitable for 14-16 year olds?

Other issues for colleges to consider

In addition to the matters identified by BIS/DfE, colleges will also need to consider a range of other issues including:

  • Curriculum – does the college intend to provide this entirely itself, or with the help of one or more other providers which can offer specialist subjects?
  • Modes of provision – what modes of study are acceptable for providing secondary education in a college setting, eg half-days, lessons taught together with FE learners, independent study sessions, remote learning etc?
  • Safeguarding – general FE colleges may find it more difficult to obtain Barred List checks and enhanced CRB disclosures in the light of the Protection of Freedoms Act changes and will need to explain to the Disclosure and Barring Service the checks needed to help safeguard younger learners in the 14-16 centre.
  • Examination fees – will the college be liable for all of these, even if the college is not teaching one or more courses?
  • Special educational needs – can the college be named in a learner’s statement of special educational needs and what additional issues may arise where a 14-16 year old student has such a statement?
  • Transport – will the college have any responsibilities in relation to transport of 14-16 year old learners to and from the premises?

Next steps

Colleges will need to consider carefully the advantages and disadvantages of recruiting 14-16 year old students, both from the legal perspective and in relation to their relationships with local schools and academies.  The governing body will need to be involved, to ensure that the outcome of the self-assessment is satisfactory and that there has been suitable consultation with the college’s stakeholders.