On the 6th April 2017 I chaired the Education Panel meeting, which examined the likely impact of the recently completed Area Review on the Further Education (FE) sector in London. It explored two questions:
- How will the FE Area Reviews lead to a more stable, financially resilient and high-performing sector?
- What was the role of the Mayor and the GLA in the process, and how does the review fit into his wider strategy on skills and devolution?
Watch my video below for my summary at the Education Panel, or read on for more info!
What is the Education Panel?
The Education Panel’s role is to review and investigate the development and delivery of the Mayor’s education policies.
- Examines what the Mayor’s role should be in the rapidly changing schools landscape and assessed how the sector is coping with current challenges, such as the need for over 47,000 new secondary places in the next five years and the risk of losing funding under a proposed new Funding Formula.
- Investigates the current and future state of London’s FE sector and, recognising that the start of the new mayoralty marked a pivotal moment for the sector, wrote an open letter to the incoming Mayor.
- Assesses the success of the Mayor’s Education Programme from 2012-16 and examined if it demonstrated value for money. The Programme included a London Schools Excellence Fund (LSEF) of £20 million from the Department for Education and £4.25 million from the Greater London Authority.
- Highlights the school places crisis in London and made practical recommendations to tackle the issue, all of which were accepted by the Mayor and implemented.
What is the FE sector?
The Further Education, or FE sector, provides a wide range of further educational opportunities including support for adults seeking to re-train or boost their skills set and support for those learning English as a second language (ESOL). It also provides opportunities for 16-19 year olds to gain further qualifications, including apprenticeships and for some to re-take GCSEs. The several different institutions that have a role in the FE sector include:
- General FE colleges and Sixth Form Colleges: offer academic and vocational training for 16-18 year olds and for adults;
- Independent training providers: offer a range of work-based training for students seeking to build careers in specific industries;
- Universities: contribute in a limited way to FE provision, particularly for higher level and degree-equivalent courses.
What is the FE Area Review?
Despite the fact that London has the highest density of FE college estates in the country, and around 500,000 learners attend these institutions which employ in excess of 16,000 staff across the FE estate, it was found to be under-performing. The FE sector was found to be underperforming across several key aspects:
- Poor performance: the percentage of General Education colleges and Sixth Form colleges achieving a grade of good or outstanding was below the national average. This is in marked contrast to the primary and secondary education sector, where pupil attainment has grown dramatically in the last decade with 91% of schools being rated good or excellent.
- Lack of financial stability: since overall funding for the FE sector has been reduced by 11% between 2010 and 2015, it comes as no surprise that the financial position of the FE sector has been declining since 2010.
- Failing to address the skills gap: there have been concerns expressed by business leaders that the FE sector is not providing the necessary skills for learners to support the future economy of London, despite the fact that London’s job market relies on high-skilled labour.
Because of these findings, London decided to review its FE sector as part of a wider national review. The main goal of this Area Review was to consider how the FE sector can deliver large numbers of higher quality qualifications in light of ongoing reductions in funding, for example by collaborating or merging with nearby or similar FE institutions. The London area review process was split into four sub-regions: Central, West London, South London and East and South East London, whilst a pan-London steering group was created to ensure continuity.
In order to deliver a financially viable and responsive FE sector, colleges must:
- Commit to identifying solutions that bring financial resilience and improvement in college ‘estates’;
- Respond to financial weaknesses in part of the sector;
- Ensure that the curriculum offered is tailored to the needs of the sub-region;
- Increase the delivery of high-quality apprenticeships
The review also recommended nine mergers, which will affect 20 schools in total. In most cases, Sixth Form colleges were either recommended to continue on in their present structure, or to apply for academisation, which would give them more financial flexibility as they would no longer have to pay VAT. Other recommendations included:
- Make the curricula more responsive;
- Save on back office functions;
- Improve apprenticeship provisions;
- Collaborative working between colleges and other stakeholders to assess the local offer of the former and where to expand if needed;
- General commitments to partnerships established by the review process to examine provision in respective sub-regions.
- There are concerns that the FE Area Reviews have not struck the right balance between financial sustainability and delivering quality outcomes for learners and the wider economy.
- The changes to the FE sector will cost money, both in terms of finances and staff resources to make them successful; this is something that has also been noted by the Association of Colleges.
- Several concerns have been raised about the quality of the data underpinning the analysis of the sub-regions, and therefore, the resulting recommendations.
- Some groups have criticised the modelling used to determine future needs, claiming that the models assume unrealistic levels of student and funding growth, which can only lead to further college failures in the medium term.
- The area review process has been criticised for its lack of engagement with both staff and learners, and did not appear to take into the account the needs of learners to access FE.
- It is likely that there will be at least some job losses, as colleges merge functions and seek out over-laps in curricula.
How it affects my constituencies
Hackney and Islington were included in the Central London Steering Group, which was chaired by the leader of the London Borough of Southwark, Peter John OBE (Labour). It is in these boroughs that two mergers took place during the review: between Tower Hamlets and Hackney Community College; and between City and Islington College and Westminster Kingsway College.
In Hackney, the Brooke House Sixth Form College is going to remain as a stand-alone sixth form college, working to improve its financial position and its quality against an improvement plan agreed with the Department for Education’s funding agencies. The college plans to reduce its curriculum offer in response to reductions in student numbers. The college is developing partnership agreements with apprenticeship providers, the first of which will be Transport for London (TfL). There will be a creation of a London Sixth Form Partnership, a new collaborative venture to share best practices and services, which will include Brook House Sixth Form, Havering, Leyton, Newton and St. Francis Xavier sixth-form colleges.
Tower Hamlets and Hackney College are to merge with Redbridge College, part of which involves the creation of a shared services and apprenticeship company with the Newham College of Further Education in East London.
In Islington, Islington College and Westminster Kingsway College are to explore options for collaboration with The College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London.
Waltham Forest fell within the East and South East London FE Area Review. Sir George Monoux Sixth Form College is to remain as a stand-alone sixth-form college. The college will continue to support a predominantly local cohort of 16-19 year old learners from Waltham Forest, offering level 3 learning. Waltham Forest will also merge with Barnet and Southgate College; the merged college will deliver high quality skills in wider GLA key growth sectors identified as critical for London’s economy including accountancy, finance, construction and digital skills, media, health sciences and engineering.
The 6th April Education Panel
RESPONSES TO THE REVIEW
I chaired the Education Panel last week where we discussed the FE Area Reviews. We had five important guests present:
- Jules Pipe, Deputy Mayor for Planning, Regeneration and Skills
- Mary Vine-Morris, Regional Director of the Association of Colleges
- Andy Wilson, CEO of Capital City College Group (including Westminster Kingsway College and City and Islington College)
- Professor Ann Hodgson, UCL Institute of Education
There was a general consensus from guests that the recommendations will be good for the sector. The Area Review process was useful for developing strategic regional partnerships, but we concluded that it was rushed with questionable data is some places. For example Jules Pipe, Deputy Mayor for Planning, Regeneration and Skills noted that the time period of 6 months for the review really constrained the investigations
There was also the assumption that the mergers would have happened regardless of the review as that is the general direction in which FE is heading.
Professor Ann Hodgson from UCL Institute of Education received evidence from the FE sector who found the process frustrating due to the sheer size of meetings and that the Commission has “no teeth”.
Concerns were also raised with regards to the possibility that each London Borough will not have their own FE college but evidence from Andy Wilson, CEO of Capital City College Group (including Westminster Kingsway College and City and Islington College), highlighted that students are willing to travel across London for a good course. We therefore need to ensure that all students have the means and accessibility to travel to the colleges that they wish to attend and that all colleges are of a high standard.
It must be noted that the review is not a finished process and it needs to be continually reviewed. Good work is already being done to improve the links between business, local authorities and FE sector but we need to see those links move from conversation to tangible outcomes and activity.
Jules Pipe will incorporate the recommendations into the Skills for Londoners process and plans to extend the curriculum offer in London. The Skills for Londoners Taskforce which will be announced shortly will contain Jules Pipe, Cllr Peter John, Deputy Chair and executive member for business, skills and Brexit on London Councils with 4 people from businesses and 4 from colleges. Through the Taskforce, the Post-16 Strategy will be developed.
There are no proposals for a pan-London FE Unit but the Mayor wants the skills system across London to deliver. The Skills for Londoners Taskforce is the next step to discuss what this will look like. The Taskforce is not a permanent body and will be time limited. It will come up with recommendations to ensure the FE sector is well managed and does not require future intervention.
Area Reviews were a first step, Skills for Londoners is the next step – now, with a clarification of the aims of the FE Area Review and the possibility of a task force to scrutinise how well the recommendations are being carried out – we can continue to monitor the institutions included and continue to support them.
What are your thoughts? Have schools been affected in your local area? Write to me with your thoughts: firstname.lastname@example.org