Last September, a number of changes were made to the education and training of 16 to 19-year-olds. These included raising the participation age to 17 (it rises again to 18 in 2015), new 16 to 19 funding arrangements, and new study programmes.
Another key change has been the requirement that any 16-year-old without a C in GCSE English or maths must continue to study the subjects post-16 until they reach this benchmark.
However, an Ofsted investigation into the early implementation of the reforms found “disappointingly little change” to Level 3 programmes – “particularly in schools and academies”.
The new requirements mean that 16 to 19 study programmes must be “individualised” and include qualifications that “stretch the learner and link clearly to progression routes”. They should also allow for “meaningful work experience” or other activities to develop personal skills.
However, Ofsted’s report concludes that too many further education and school 6th form providers are not yet offering programmes that meet these key requirements.
It states: “Many of the school and academy leaders interviewed were unaware of the requirements of the study programmes and implications for 6th form provision; implementation in these contexts has been too slow.”
A key problem, inspectors said, is that too many learners are not progressing from their prior attainment to a higher level of study, particularly those on Level 1 and 2 programmes.
Also, most providers are not using work experience “effectively”, they said. The report states: “Very few providers are able to arrange sufficient good-quality, work-related learning, including external placements with local employers, for all their learners.
“This is most acute for learners on programmes at Level 2 and below, especially for learners where an extended period of work-experience should be included as a main element of their programme. It is also a significant barrier to the success of Traineeships and supported internships.”
There are problems too with the continuation of English and maths GCSE study for those without C grades, with inspectors noting a shortage of teachers for the subjects. The report adds: “The key requirement of the 16 to 19 study programmes, namely that learners without GCSE grade C or above in English and mathematics continue to work towards them, is not yet being met in full.
“Too few learners, who are probably capable of achieving these qualifications, are working towards a GCSE at grade C or above in English and mathematics.”
Elsewhere, Ofsted has also criticised the provision of careers guidance, which it said is “weak at all levels”, meaning learners are “unclear about the progression routes available beyond the study programme”.
The report has led to a warning from Ofsted’s director of further education and skills, Lorna Fitzjohn, that as the participation age rises the “new NEETs” could be those aged 18 to 24. She said: “It is simply not enough to keep young people in education and training longer if they still fail to gain meaningful qualifications and experience that will help them achieve their career goals. Instead, all this will do for many is delay their inevitable fall into the NEET category.”
Ofsted is now urging all 16 to 19 providers to fully review their provision. Its report goes into detail about what learners at each level should be aiming for in terms of study and progression.
It also calls on schools and colleges to increase the take-up of Traineeships, which are stepping stone qualifications designed to lead into Apprenticeships.
The survey report, including the full recommendations, is at http://bit.ly/Zmef6k