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Sector news, 24 - 30 August 2014

Why aren't colleges welcoming 14-year-olds? Guardian, 26 August 2014

This Guardian article by Rebecca Ratcliffe looks at how FE institutions are now able to enrol pupils aged under 16 full time but it seems high costs and safety worries mean few are doing so. There is a focus on Emilia Millward who hated school where she struggled, but since starting a catering course at Middlesborough College where she also studies GCSEs in maths and English her maths mark has risen from 23 per cent to 83 per cent, and she won a “student of the year” prize. Only six colleges last year opted to enrol under-16s directly, with nine more planning to from September, but the Association of Colleges was not surprised so few had signed up. Colleges had to think about their relationship with local schools, their infrastructure, buildings, quality assurance, and protection of younger students in an environment with lots of visitors and adult students. As well as their vocational studies, students have to be taught English, maths and science and have lessons in religious and sex education. Colleges are responsible for attendance monitoring, including taking parents to court for absences, and providing free school meals.

ETF action over conflict of interest fears after director’s firm wins contract FE Week, 24 August 2014

The Education and Training Foundation has acted over conflict of interest concerns surrounding interim director Pauline Odulinski after a £100,000 contract was awarded to a firm where she worked. The contract to develop a learning technologies self-assessment tool was last month given to Surrey-based Coralesce where Mrs Odulinksi is a project manager. The firm also won an £83,000 contract award in January for “strategic consultation on VET, technology in teaching and higher level apprenticeships — technology in teaching”. A foundation spokesperson insisted its tendering processes had been “open and competitive” and neither had involved Mrs Odulinski. FE Week reported that Mrs Odulinski’s Coralesce role was not listed in her foundation website biography, though she has now updated it. The move was welcomed within the sector, with a warning about the need to avoid the potential appearance of conflicts of interest.

University system geared towards foreign students could undermine our economy, says warns vice-chancellor 24 August, 2014

The Independent reported on a claim by Nigel Harrington, vice-chancellor the University of the Arts in London, that UK universities are being forced to teach overseas students who then return home with skills that help build their countries to compete against us. He argued that more foreign students will need to be taken on because of universities’ growing financial difficulties, and it will ultimately undermine the economy because they would often leave the UK with the skills they learnt here, as they are only allowed to stay if they find a job here. He suggested raising student fees was another option, and the raising of the fee cap was already being discussed by university leaders. UK students are already in the minority when it comes to postgraduate students with the majority now coming from China.

AoC and AELP unite in warning BIS FE loan extension plan could hit learner numbers FE Week, 27 August 2014

The proposed expansion of the FE loans system to cover to cover level two qualifications and also younger learners could hit participation levels, the Association for Colleges (AoC) and the Association for Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) have both warned. Both associations had the same concerns is response to the government’s consultation on extending the 24+ advanced learning loan system. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is looking to include qualifications at level two, as well as level three from the age of 19, and its consultation closed last week. The AELP in their consultation response said it would particularly hit the low skilled, unemployed and prisoners, who will not find taking a loan suitable. The AoC said precautions would have to be taken to prevent potential learners from being discouraged by the loans, including allowing courses to remain free for students on benefits and those taking courses in the lowest level qualifications. The government response to the consultation is due to be published on November 13.

Sector concern after Skills Funding Agency list a further 174 qualifications facing the axe FE Week, 28 August 2014

The government has been warned by FE sector leaders against making “simplistic decisions” that could limit funding to qualifications for a specific occupation — after it identified 174 qualifications at level 2 and above in this category. The qualifications face losing public spending unless the government is convinced otherwise through a consultation with colleges, independent learning providers, employers, learners and awarding organisations. It comes after the SFA identified 1,477 Qualification and Credit Framework level two to four qualifications in January which it said would not be approved for 2014/15 funding. The government only plans to fund qualifications which “support meaningful outcomes in terms of enabling entry to an apprenticeship or other work, progression through work, or progression to the next level of learning”. It also questioned the need for Level 2 QCF units that focus on more general skills — for example preparing CVs. Lynne Sedgmore, chief executive of the 157 Group, said she was concerned at the increasing suggestion that funding should only be directed to qualifications which lead to a specific occupation.

New grants to tempt maths graduates to teach in FE TES, 27 August 2014

A new scheme which aims to raise standards of maths among young people and adults in the further education sector in England was launched today. Colleges and other FE providers can apply for grants of £20,000 to train maths graduates to teach the subject at GCSE level and above. The scheme will work alongside existing programmes, including the previously announced £10,000 ‘golden hello’ initiative for new graduate maths teachers, and will support the move for GCSEs to become the standard qualification in post-16 education from 2015. Trainees must be employed and commence their initial teacher training between September 1 2014 and July 31, 2015. Joy Mercer, director of policy at the Association of Colleges, welcomed the scheme. It follows a similar programme designed to help colleges and providers recruit specialist graduate maths teachers.

However FE Week reported a different story under the headline of “Math teacher training fund divides opinion after colleges with notice of financial concern are barred”. The £1.5 million ‘funding in-service maths teacher training in FE’ scheme was then criticised by the AoC after it emerged the money would not be available for colleges under notices of financial concern. FE Week understood that more than 10 per cent of colleges were thought to be under a notice of financial concern. A BIS spokesperson said the scheme was expected to fund training for more than 100 new maths teachers, and the impact would be reviewed before future commitments were made. FE Week said there were 981 providers with SFA allocations.