Come September, colleges are ready to roll on a younger intake. General further education and 6th form colleges will be able to recruit 14 and 15-year-olds directly. All a young person has to do is find out which colleges in their area are open for their age group, apply successfully and then tell their school that they will not be coming back.
It follows the recommendation in the Wolf Review that funding mechanisms should facilitate 14 to 16-year-olds in colleges studying the mandatory elements of key stage 4 – English, maths, religious education, PSHE – and a vocational subject for up to 20 per cent of their time. Although increasing numbers of 14-year-olds have attended colleges for some part of their education, this will be the first time that they can enrol full-time.
The right to free school meals (FSM) will continue and according to the Department for Education, colleges will need to ask pupils if their parents are in receipt of the necessary benefits to give them entitlement. This seems a very unsystematic approach, but colleges may be motivated by the Pupil Premium payment that accompanies eligibility.
This will bring about greater exposure for a current anomaly. If young people stay in school, their FSM entitlement continues post-16, but if they move to a college, it is lost – so 15-year-olds will be fed but not 16-year-olds.
There is another concern. In school, great pains are taken, driven by statutory nutritional standards, to ensure that pupils’ food is nutritious and contains the building blocks for healthy physical and mental development. This will be lost in college. The FSM that must be provided could be a packed lunch with a curly sandwich, crisps and chocolate bar. If food must by law be nutritious for 18-years-old in school, why can college students eat junk?
The participation age is also increasing this year, meaning young people must stay in education or training until the end of the academic year in which they turn 17 (and until their 18th birthday from 2015). In light of this, there may be a realisation that rather than retaining those young people in school who would perhaps have left education at 16, college might be a more suitable environment for them.
University Technical Colleges, Studio Schools, Traineeships, and now 14-year-olds in college – this is all setting a clear vocational direction for certain students at an early age. The trouble is, since universal education came into being there have seemingly always been two types of children – those who are destined for an academic path, usually because of family background, and those who are not.
The number of young people attending higher education has increased significantly in the last 50 years, but higher achievement and access to professions and careers is still predominantly an inheritance.
It is said that the college option for 14-year-olds should include academic routes, but it is hard to imagine some parents wanting their children to go to college at such a young age.
Also, there may be young people who are brought up to believe that university is the only option but who would be more fulfilled on a vocational route.
So do I support 14-year-olds going to college? I think I do. General further education colleges are essentially community institutions for people studying A levels or vocational courses, or just trying to catch up with Foundation learning or Level 2. They try to create opportunities where there is no privilege.
Their teachers also tend to be from less advantaged backgrounds (hence the poorer pay?) and take a more holistic approach to the student. The learning environment is much more inclusive with young and old, able and less able, ethnic diversity, and often a “no judgement” culture.
Fourteen-year-olds may be kept in different buildings for safeguarding reasons and their results will still be the stuff of league tables, but hopefully some of them will feel more a part of a learning community than they have before.