Former Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw has been heavily criticised for telling colleges to “get off their backsides” and work harder, during a public debate at the Institute of Education on the academic and vocational divide. According to TES, Robert Halfon, chair of the Commons education select committee, said Wilshaw’s attack was “disgraceful”, given that 70% of colleges were rated good or outstanding by Ofsted. Wilshaw has shown “scurrilous and ignorant prejudice”, tweeted Association of Colleges (AoC) chief executive David Hughes.
Banks have become increasingly reluctant to lend to colleges, following recent new laws governing institutions facing insolvency (Technical and Further Education Act), FE reforms linked to area reviews of the sector, and financial difficulties on many campuses, reports TES. Total borrowing has fallen by almost 19% to £1.3bn over the past 2-3 years. According to the AoC, colleges are now depending far more on state support after big cuts in capital investment by the government and banks (particularly Barclays and Lloyds). Shortage of funds has played a part in delaying proposed college mergers.
Financial and performance issues at a Manchester-based studio school in special measures and facing possible closure further highlight the problems facing studio schools, reports FE Week. Failure to continue could mean the Manchester Creative Studio will bring to 18 (approximately 34%) the number of studio schools closing since the first one opened in 2010. Designed to offer a work-related syllabus embracing both academic and vocational qualifications, the schools take up to 300 pupils aged 14-19. But like university technical colleges aimed at a similar age group, many studio schools have had difficulty recruiting enough students to secure the necessary funding.
Apprenticeship starts at companies paying the apprenticeship levy numbered 10% less this October compared to September than the average for the previous three years over the same period, according to DfE figures. FE Week reports a drop of 49%, taking into account the usual decrease after the September surge, which continues the downward trend since the levy was introduced last May. The government says employers are still working out how to spend their levy money on training. The Association of Employment and Learning Providers says one major cause is the 20% off-the-job training rule for apprentices, which is making apprenticeships unaffordable for many companies.
To improve English GCSE resit pass rates, a programme involving regular short tests and hand-written exercises devised by Manchester College is being trialled by six colleges, reports TES. The pilot of Assess for Success, supported by JP Morgan and the Education Endowment Foundation and the fourth trial in a £5m project designed to raise maths and English pass rates, will involve 1,200 students. The assessment project’s aim is to help flesh out students’ capabilities and any areas where they require to improve.