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Research bridges evidence gap on how colleges support young people in further education

IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society and the Association of Colleges (AoC) have published an interim report exploring staff perceptions of the educational provision offered for 14-16-year-olds in further education (FE) colleges and its value for these learners.

Teenagers talking to each other. Image credit: Cultura Creative via Adobe Stock.

Cultura Creative via Adobe Stock.

Further education colleges support the diverse needs of learners who were not flourishing in mainstream education, or who found that schools were unable to meet their needs. 

The findings of the report stem from a survey of colleges in England (response rate 32%) and interviews with 19 FE college leaders. 

Respondents perceived many benefits to this type of educational provision, with local communities seeing a drop in exclusions and a reduction of those “not in education, employment, or training” (NEET). 

They also felt strongly that offering this provision was the right thing to do – that this was “about transforming lives.” 

A common theme across the interviewees and survey respondents suggests that these learners felt disengaged from mainstream education, citing:

  • concerns schools did not seem to address, such as mental health, bullying or special educational needs and disabilities (SEND);
  • or a lack of vocational and technical options that students were more interested in.

The initial findings of the report suggest that the FE provision is attractive to learners for the flexibility of its curriculum and an emphasis on vocational, hands-on learning. Respondents also highlight that FE is less rigid than mainstream education, tending to be more individualised to the needs and interests of young people. 

Interviews with leaders cite smaller class sizes, a more adult environment, and the recruitment of staff who are able to build strong student/teacher relationships as factors they believe contribute to the supportive learning environment. 

The report was published as part of a project jointly led by IOE’s Dr Lynne Rogers, Co-Director of the Centre for Post-14 Education and Work, and AoC, with funding from the Nuffield Foundation. 

The project looks at three groups of FE learners: full-time students (direct entry); electively home-educated students, who study part-time in FE; and young people on alternative provision, some of whom are at risk of exclusion or have been excluded from school in the past. 

The research is investigating the trajectories and opportunities for 14-16-year-olds in FE to build a comprehensive picture of their experiences and address the scarcity of evidence on the curriculum and support offered. 

Dr Rogers yesterday said:

“It is great that this much needed research is underway. Far too little is known about these young people and the factors that support them during their education in FE.” 

The project began in September 2022 and is set to run until October 2024. The next stage of the project will explore the perspectives of these learners themselves and wider stakeholders through visits to 10 case study colleges to draw out which elements of the provision have worked well, contributing factors, challenges and barriers. 

To further address the lack of data on 14-16-year-olds in FE, the researchers will analyse data from the National Pupil Database that is linked to data from the Individualised Learner Record to explore the progression outcomes of students in successive cohorts. 

The final report is set to be published later this year.

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