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Sector news, 5 - 18 July 2015

Overhaul technical qualifications to boost productivity, report argues TES, 16 July 2015

Comprehensive reform of the way technical and professional qualifications are accredited and funded is needed to boost the country’s productivity, according to a new report. The TES reported that in the paper, FE expert Scott Kelly argues that too few people are studying for work-related qualifications at levels 4 and 5, and says proposed solutions have been too “vague”. The paper, Raising Productivity by Improving Higher Technical Education, published by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi), says the FE sector is “ideally placed” to play a larger role. It says that there should be a “well-defined” set of institutions based around technical and professional qualifications; that higher-level work-related qualifications should all be validated and funded by the same processes; and that public policy should acknowledge and address the barriers to employer engagement.

New guide aims to improve understanding of skills system among policy makers FE Week, 6 July 2015

A comprehensive new guide to vocational education and training geared at improving the level of understanding of the skills system among policy makers has been unveiled in the House of Lords. The Guide to the Skills System publication came from the Skills Commission, an independent group of leading experts and opinion formers from across the education and skills sector. The guide, which is aimed at parliamentarians and their researchers, as well as the wider policymaking community, covers key areas including the public funding system, the role of employers, and the devolvement of responsibilities for skills across the UK.

Train college staff in autism awareness, new report recommends TES, 14 July 2015

All college staff should have access to autism awareness training, a new report by the University of Warwick has recommended. The proposal stems from an evaluation of a unique college-led project which has helped dozens of young people with autism continue their education beyond school. Four FE colleges worked with schools and other agencies to improve the transition from school to further education of more than 110 young people with autism. The Finished at School programme was run by the Department for Education and charity Ambitious about Autism between April 2013 and March this year. Now a report by researchers from the University of Warwick reveals the first cohort of 45 young people in the project, who left school in summer 2014, all made successful transitions to post-GCSE education, with 34 of them going on to attend FE colleges. The report makes a number of recommendations for FE colleges, including that all college staff should have access to autism awareness training, and that college representatives should attend annual school reviews from year 9 onwards for any learner with complex autism who is likely to go on to attend the college.

Visa crackdown on colleges: Tories aim to shut 'back door to bogus students' TES, 13 July 2015

Colleges have urged the government to reconsider a new crackdown on visa fraud amid warnings that it will harm the country’s ability to attract foreign students. Immigration minister James Brokenshire announced that rules allowing non-European Union students attending publicly funded FE colleges to work for up to 10 hours a week would be scrapped. The Home Office said the rules were being tightened after officials detected early signs of increased fraud at some publicly funded colleges and discovered immigration advisers advertising college visas as a means to work in the UK. New reforms will also cut FE visas from three to two years, prevent students applying for work visas unless they leave the country first, and prevent FE students extending their UK studies unless they are registered at an institution with a formal link to a university. The Home Office has already removed sponsorship licences from more than 870 bogus colleges since 2010 as part of a drive to root out abuse of the immigration system.

Adult education body Niace to merge with Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion TES, 14 July 2015

Adult education body Niace and the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion (Cesi) are to become one organisation, it was announced. The two bodies, which have been in a strategic alliance since February, say they want to be seen as the “go-to thinktank” on the “critical issues” of learning, skills and employment. The merger process is expected to be completed by January 2016. No decision has yet been made on the future of the employees of the two organisations, or what the merged body will be called.

'The College of Teaching is not here to compete with existing FE organisations' TES, 6 July 2015

Chris Pope, the founding member of the Claim Your College coalition and co-director of the Prince’s Teaching Institute, argues in this article that the proposed College of Teaching means a bright future for all teachers – including those in the FE sector. He said it will need to be financially self-sufficient in the long term, which would probably only be feasible with membership fees, and without the government being the paymaster it would not suffer from the government calling the tune. He also said it would work closely with the Education and Training Foundation (ETF) and the recently launched Society for Education and Training (Set), which is taking on a specialist and needed role supporting the FE sector.

FE sector braced for national strikes over college staff pay freeze TES, 17 July 2015

The FE sector is bracing for further industrial unrest as unions prepare to take strike action over a national pay freeze for college staff, the TES reported. Last month TES reported that the Association of Colleges (AoC) would not be recommending a pay increase for 2015-16, despite sector unions calling for an extra £1 an hour for all staff. Colleges are being hit by reduced levels of funding for the coming academic year, with the adult skills budget cut by 24 per cent. Now several unions in the sector – including Unison, GMB and the University and College Union (UCU) – have rejected the offer and are preparing to ballot on further action.