Our plan for further education: Defined, career and skills focused, collaborative
The further education (FE) sector is well known for its complexity. It is commonly labelled as the ‘everything else’ of the education sector due to the sheer breadth of provision it offers (Panchamia, 2012). FE comprises all postcompulsory education and training for 16 to 18-year-olds and adults. It does not fit neatly in the standard stages of primary, secondary, tertiary or post-tertiary education (including adult education). This complex nature has made it very difficult for the sector to define itself and focus on a clear direction. Alongside a longstanding lack of funding, this has created a variety of challenges among the teaching workforce and student population. However, advances in the FE sector are being made and, in this report, we explore many examples of excellent practice, especially within professional and vocational education. Key points include: (1) A continuous decline in funding both 16-18 and post-18 has caused significant challenges for the FE sector: Colleges are facing a staff recruitment and retention crisis reinforced by the increased marketisation of the sector; (2) There are no prescribed levels of education qualification or professional status required to teach in further education in England creating uncertainty about appropriate and sufficient staff requirements; (3) The breadth of provision offered alongside a stretched workforce often means FE providers take on more than they have the capacity to handle; (4) Class sizes have increased and learning hours per student decreased to compensate for cuts in funding; (5) Mergers have attempted to respond to funding and governance challenges across the sector, but the emerging evidence to date suggests this had limited success; and (6) Colleges should focus on collaboration, forming collaborative groupings across geographical regions, specialisms and leading local education groups while bringing together other providers including schools and higher education institutions.