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The government must provide ring-fenced enrichment funding, say further education leaders

02 May 2024

Enrichment report

Policy makers must recognise the value of enrichment in education and provide ring-fenced funding to ensure all students can benefit, a new report has said today.

The Valuing Enrichment study, led by the Association of Colleges and the University of Derby and funded by NCFE, puts enrichment activity for 16 to 19-year-olds under the microscope and demonstrates the impact it has on learners both at college and in their futures beyond it.

The study, first launched in 2020, collected data from 109 providers across England and Wales, conducted interviews with staff and learners from nine case study providers and 42 additional colleges, as well as engaging with hundreds of other college representatives and students.

It defines enrichment as ‘the college-based activities through which staff and students extend and complement learning acquired during study for approved qualifications’, and identifies nine different types: enrichment for health and fitness, subject enrichment (general education curriculum), subject enrichment (technical and vocational), enrichment in creative fields (technical skills and socialisation), holistic enrichment as the curriculum for low-attaining learners and those with SEND, enrichment for societal participation, enrichment for mental health, student-led enrichment (clubs and societies), and clubs and societies (extending perspectives).

The authors look at each of these types in turn, providing examples of effective enrichment programmes, evidencing the positive impact of enrichment on a diverse range of learners, and setting out compelling evidence on the economic value of enrichment.

Enrichment activities attract study programme funding and receive Ofsted judgements, and yet there is no clear agreement on the purpose or scope of activity, and there is a lack of clearly identified resources.

As a result, student access to enrichment benefits is uneven across the country. To rectify this, and ensure all students benefit from high-quality enrichment activity, the authors put forward five recommendations for stakeholders.

  1. Clear recognition at national policy level of the value of enrichment
    Enrichment activities are important for student success, helping them develop skills and confidence needed for training, employment and higher education. Enrichment can also directly improve students' chances of finishing their current programme by providing them with a space to explore interests, build social connections, and gain practical experience that complements their studies. The limited definition of enrichment means that some colleges develop their own innovative activities to extend students’ learning, however, it has left others unclear how they can best provide enrichment. While this study provides ideas and examples, a clearer national definition of enrichment could help colleges better implement these valuable programmes.
  2. Equality of access to enrichment for all learners: enrichment that extends and complements all areas of study
    Equal access to enrichment activities is a major concern. Elite schools offer more enrichment, which can widen the gap for disadvantaged students who arguably need it most. In colleges with high numbers of disadvantaged learners, the need for a more diverse range of activity is greater, and while some colleges have prioritised enrichment for all, others offered limited options or focused on specific groups. Enrichment activity is enhanced when curriculum staff are included the design, however learner support specialists, partner organisations and students also play an important role. Overall, enrichment works best when it's available to everyone, complements all subjects, and both deepens understanding of taught material and broadens student perspectives. This is well-established in some colleges, but technical and vocational programmes need to explore how enrichment can extend their curriculum for a richer learning experience.
  3. Opportunities for student participation and agency
    Colleges design their own enrichment programmes, driven by the resources available. There's often a lack of clear goals for student-led enrichment, impacted by a lack of continuity as each new cohort needs to learn the principles of the organisation over again. However, student agency can be supported through individual activities and long-running programmes for groups, clubs and societies. These can have important roles in personal development and networking but can also provide an important link between colleges and their wider communities. Overall, enrichment can empower students through self-organisation and advocacy, but this requires support from college leadership and other institutions.
  4. National and local criteria for the success of enrichment
    There is huge diversity of enrichment activities across colleges, and success is judged by student participation, personal growth and community engagement which are hard to quantify and measure. This variety is a strength, allowing programmes to adapt to student and staff interests. However, while colleges might lack clear goals for enrichment, rigid targets wouldn't work either, and we should not add to the many targets and standards already required of the sector. Instead, broad success indicators could guide colleges and give them to freedom to create effective programmes which work best for their diverse student bodies.
  5. Resourcing that extends beyond the minimal time for pastoral support
    Colleges value enrichment programmes but struggle with limited resources. Funding for enrichment is included within ‘EEP’ funding, which is expected to cover additions to the curriculum, pastoral time and employability skills. Without extra funding, any growth in enrichment is likely to be met with a reduction in tutorial and pastoral support. Colleges therefore need to be adequately resourced and have enough flexibility to invest in enrichment appropriate to their students’ needs. This funding needs to clearly designated for these purposes so that enrichment activity can flourish without competing for funding.

David Hughes, Chief Executive, AoC, said: “I’m delighted that this research shines a much-needed light on the benefits of college enrichment because it is a vital part of a rounded education for every young person. That’s why we want a new young person’s guarantee to incorporate enrichment as part of every study programme. It supports and empowers students with skills, confidence, self-esteem and awareness, and supports their development as lifelong learners, active citizens and engaged workers and yet too many young people are not offered the opportunities they deserve to have. I urge all post-16 stakeholder to act on these recommendations.”

David Gallagher, Chief Executive of NCFE, said: "This report is a compelling and timely reminder of the significant role enrichment plays for learners and colleges, but also highlights that it lacks a clear definition, equality of provision, and adequate resources. If we’re serious about ‘levelling up’ society then the recommendations in this report must be taken seriously, and we need to see a policy shift towards ensuring enrichment, and all that it offers, starts to receive the recognition, attention, and resources it both needs and deserves."

Bill Esmond, Research Lead, University of Derby said: “Our research demonstrates the work staff and students put in to make learning a broader experience. Enrichment motivates learners to continue with their course and stay in education, as well as preparing them for the world.

“However, the research shows that enrichment isn’t uniform across the sector. Action is needed to provide all students with the same access, resources and opportunities to play their own part in planning and organising enrichment.”

The full report is available here.