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Sector news, 13 - 19 October 2013

Number of part-time students plummets after 'perfect storm'

The number of people choosing to study part time in England has plummeted by 40 per cent in the past two years – the equivalent of 105,000 fewer students, according to a study published on Wednesday. The fall has been blamed on the tuition fee hike, tough economic climate, pressures on employers and changes in the ways that people get into higher education. Almost half a million degree students were studying part time in 2011-2012, with most of them working at the same time and studying vocational subjects, according to vice-chancellors' group Universities UK (UUK), which conducted the research. The study said there was a ‘perfect storm’ of factors interacting, including the economic situation restricting employer support for further study and putting pressure on household budgets. The rise in apprenticeships, increase in private providers and shift to online learning was also having an impact, though was hard to quantify. Universities minister David Willetts said tuition fee loans were now available to new part-time students, helping to create a level playing field. He asked universities to make sure part-time options were highly visible on website and marketing materials and that information on student finance is up to date.

Gove's education reforms make second chances a thing of the past

Government cuts of £90m have forced the Open University to raise its fees, pricing thousands out of the market. Meanwhile, MPs complain about adult literacy figures, says Laura McInerney in this article, which looks at all the things which have made the achievements of Open University study great, but which she fears could soon be lost, with full-time OU degrees in England now costing £5,000 a year. McInerney says Labour must challenge the government on what happened to their guarantee that people who left school at 16 could retain credit for three more years of education, and when government MPs complain about adult literacy, demand to know what is being improved for adults who are in work right now.

Headteachers, have you cancelled the November GCSEs?

The Guardian asked headteachers whether Michael Gove's ruling that only the first attempt at GCSEs will count in league tables has changed their policy – and what they have told their students. Some are carrying on as before, some have reduced numbers and others have pulled all students out. Fear of Ofsted and of ending up in special measures are mentioned.

Minister in Elite tag ‘hint’ after Premier Colleges launch

A “new breed of elite colleges” appears to have been hinted at in the same week as a group of providers have branded themselves Premier Colleges. Skills Minister Matthew Hancock mentioned the word “elite” four times in a recent speech about the future of colleges, and FE Week said it understaood he was considering using the term for the best performing, which could require a particular specialism or a high level of employer engagement. However, a spokesperson at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills declined to comment on whether there were plans for such a new college brand. 157 Group executive director Lynne Sedgmore said she was “very cautious” about the term. The minister’s comments came as Skills Show sponsors grouped together to brand themselves Premier Colleges, for a new working relationship, all but three of them from the Midlands.

Colleges under fire in social mobility commission report

A hard-hitting report by the government’s social mobility commission has attacked college performance and recommended funding for employment outcomes rather than recruitment. The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission’s 348-page document concluded: “Current policies are likely to be insufficient to address entrenched and unacceptably high levels of youth unemployment and inactivity.” Among its ten recommendations was that “colleges in the future be paid by the results they achieve for their students in the labour market and not the numbers they recruit”. Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said there were a number of factors which influenced how well students fared in the labour market, the most obvious being the local economy and career they want. Colleges could not be held responsible for finding jobs for them. Lynne Sedgmore, executive director of the 157 Group, criticised the findings, saying they relied on Ofsted data from more than a year ago, and that it missed the point of the critical work done by colleges.

Councils ‘not tracking’ 16 to 18s

Skills Minister Matthew Hancock has criticised a dozen councils for failing to track 16 to 18-year-olds’ employment status. Mr Hancock wrote to each of the councils following the publication of Department for Education (DfE) statistics showing the number of 16 to 17-year-olds in each area in work, training or education, along with those who were and were not unaccounted for. Councils’ responses included blaming issues with computer systems, or social and geographical challenges specific to their area, while a few acknowledged the problem and said they were working on it. Several councils said there had been problems in transferring the responsibility for collecting the data from the Connexions service, which was closed by the government in 2012. The criticised councils included Birmingham, Derby, Derbyshire, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, South Gloucestershire, and Stoke-on-Trent.

Enthusiastic reception for family learning expansion plans

The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education’s (Niace) new report calling for widespread expansion of family learning generated an enthusiastic response at its official launch. David Hughes, Niace chief executive, called for more of the Pupil Premium budget — which was £1.875bn in 2013-14 — to be allocated to family learning courses, which are often taught at primary schools by college lecturers. Mr Hughes was disappointed no-one from the DfE attended the event, as the proposals for Pupil Premium directly affect the department.

Baker’s Career Colleges ‘risk confusion’

Further education leaders have expressed concern at Lord Baker’s plans to establish “yet another” brand of vocational training colleges. The Tory peer has announced new proposals to create Careers Colleges, focussing on training from 14 years old in areas including hospitality, tourism, finance, health and care and construction. These would be based at existing colleges, follow 14 to 16 direct recruitment funding rules, but require a subsidiary board made up of at least 40 per cent employers. But sector leaders are worried these would be similar to existing University Technical Colleges (UTCs), a programme which Lord Baker also leads. These independent institutions offer 14 to 19-year-olds vocational training in science, technology, engineering and maths-based (STEM) subjects, alongside the teaching of core academic subjects. The peer denied UTCs and Career Colleges could cause confusion, or had the potential to compete with each other. Nevertheless, Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said an advantage of a career college might be that they would be a subsidiary of an FE college, so could share resources, staff and facilities.