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Wed, 06 Jul 22 11:59

"Love our colleges"

When I became Chair of the ADCS Educational Achievement Policy Committee this year, one of the areas I wanted to bring more clearly into focus was further education (FE) and the many common challenges that local authorities and the FE sector face. Although local authorities are not responsible for FE colleges, we are responsible for the outcomes of all children and young people in our area, regardless of which education setting they attend.

Challenges around high needs funding, the impact of exclusions, home education and disadvantage are all common to local authorities and the FE sector. The recent government announcement of £400 million to FE 16-18 funding has been widely welcomed but over the past decade government funding to colleges has been cut by 30%. Despite this, colleges up and down the country continue to support children and young people who present complex needs or who haven’t been able to remain in mainstream education. Indeed, 18% of students in colleges have a learning difficulty and/or a disability and it is absolutely right that these students have access to an education that is flexible to meet their needs. I know many local authorities rely on the inclusive practice that FE colleges in their area provide to support those young people who may be classed as vulnerable.

There is much more to having a good education than just achieving the very best exam results and the positive impact that a balanced curriculum and inclusive culture in our education system can have on entire communities cannot be understated. Unfortunately, a narrowing of the school curriculum in recent years and a focus on pupils achieving the Ebacc has marginalised many learners whose talents do not suit these subjects or the style of learning. Some of these children and young people will have special educational needs or be eligible for free school meals or be children in care or care leavers who need another opportunity to succeed. This is why FE colleges are so important because they are able to offer flexible support and courses that are suitable for all types of learners.

For many young people, college will present a second chance to reengage with education and turn their interests into a career via a vocational route and this must be celebrated. The campaign on Twitter #LoveOurColleges is a good place to start but the government must recognise the vital role that the FE sector plays in supporting these young people and allow colleges to remain inclusive for all learners. The recent announcement that many post-16 courses at level 3 and below will have their funding removed will only serve as an obstacle to this. Our responsibility for supporting all learners does not end when they finish Year 11 and we need a strong FE sector that can keep them in education, training and help them move into employment.

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