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AoC responds to the publication of The Times Education Commission report

15 June 2022

Times Education Commision

The Times published the report from its year-long Education Commission, led by journalist Rachel Sylvester.

Amanda Melton, principal and chief executive at Nelson and Colne College Group in Lancashire sat on the commission and AoC chief executive David Hughes gave evidence to the commission, along with Andrew Cropley, principal and chief executive of West Nottinghamshire College in Mansfield. The report also featured testimony from college students.

The report's top recommendation is for a "British Baccalaureate", offering "broader academic and vocational qualifications at 18, with parity in funding per pupil in both routes, and a slimmed-down set of exams at 16 to bring out the best in every child".

I’d like to get to the situation where technical education could be part of an offer, not a binary divide

David Hughes

Press quote

Kirsti Lord, deputy chief executive at the Association of Colleges, said: “This landmark report appreciates the vital importance of colleges both to local communities and the national economy and underlines the immense funding constraints colleges have faced since 2010.

“As former Tory chancellor Ken Clarke highlights in the report, poor staff pay means colleges are struggling to retain and recruit the top teaching talent needed to pass skills on to the next generation. AoC has already written to the Education Secretary asking him to lobby the current occupant of Number 11 for emergency funding to boost college lecturers' pay.

“The idea for a British Baccalaureate is an idea worth exploring so students are not pushed into a binary choice between vocational training and academic study at 16. Technical education should be part of the general educational offer so young people are prepared for the world of work.

“Rather than setting up new ‘career academies’ the focus should be on providing better funding for colleges which already deliver cutting edge skills for 1.7 million students day in, day out. We would encourage investment in existing FE infrastructure to promote creativity and entrepreneurialism, incentivise more employers to engage with their local college and ensure up-to-date resources and adequately paid staff can deliver the government’s skills revolution.

“There are already strong links between colleges and universities and one in 10 students in higher education study in an FE college. Rather than reinventing the wheel, we would urge government to work with colleges which already have an established reach into their communities to promote lifelong learning.”

Letter in The Times - Thursday 16 June

Sir, We welcome the Times Education Commission’s report, particularly its recommendations on strengthening further education and tackling 50 higher education “cold spots”. Further education colleges are economic anchors for every town and city, able to reach every community, including in the most disadvantaged areas.

The government is working with the Open University and the Office for Students on a new package of support to assist colleges in England with expanding their post-18 offers more quickly than would otherwise be possible, investing an initial £10 million in the most disadvantaged areas. As the commission suggests, the UK must go further if we are to support our colleges not as a second-best option for those unable to go to university but as a first choice: a realistic and respected alternative.

Professor Tim Blackman vice-chancellor, Open University and David Hughes chief executive, AoC