Closer ties with further education

Written by: Paul Eeles | Published:
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A Skills and Education Group has been launched to bring schools and colleges closer together. Paul Eeles says that we must find common ground to provide the best possible post-16 pathways

There is currently something of a conflict in the relationship between the secondary and further education sectors.
Successive governments have implemented policies that have left the education of our young people open to market forces which are unhelpful to both schools and colleges, and make it increasingly difficult for them to work cohesively together.

This month, the Skills and Education Group is launching to bring our sectors closer together.

The partnership between ABC Awards, ASDAN and emfec aims to use our resources to bridge the gap between schools and colleges in a new and unique way, creating a dynamic, new educational philosophy for the 21st century.

Never has this level of cooperation been needed more than now. The issues that currently affect the secondary and further education sectors are many and varied.

But for us, as educationalists, they must always be considered in the context of providing the best and most appropriate education for all our learners across the board from primary school through to adult learning.

The pertinent issue which faces all three of our organisations is careers education. With money increasingly scarce in schools, access to the right information and options is simply not available to all young people.

Further education colleges in particular, with restricted access to schools, find it difficult to access potential students and inform them about vocational study and Apprenticeships. This, in the main, is down to the system in which colleges and schools have to work and the competition for potential learners.

The House of Commons’ Sub-Select Committee for Education, Skills and the Economy, will soon publish the findings of its inquiry into careers education, while the government’s new Careers and Enterprise Company will work with Local Enterprise Partnerships, the National Careers Service and Job Centre Plus to improve the link between schools and the world of work. This will be a step in the right direction. As is politicians’ increasing recognition of the “out-dated attitudes” that still exist towards Apprenticeships and vocational learning routes.

A move where schools are required to give equal “air-time” to academic and vocational routes would be a welcome outcome.

Many already do this to good effect but more needs to be done to ensure every learner has the opportunity to reach their full potential whichever learning pathway they choose.

It is expected that new technical and vocational routes will be proposed in the pending Skills White Paper, currently being drafted by Lord Sainsbury and an expert panel. This could see young people no longer being offered mixed provision, but focused on either vocational or an academic route.

The impact of these potential changes could be widespread and affect the majority of schools’ post-16 provision.
It could result in a three-tier education system, with young people having the choice between an academic (A level), technical (TPE) or work-based (Apprenticeship) route. It will be crucial that each of these choices gives students the same chance of success.

Secondary school teachers will need to become more involved in this process and, in the classroom through work-related learning linked to careers education, must be able to emphasise the importance of skills to meet labour market needs.

The government’s plans are not enough on their own. It will be up to schools to inspire their young people and tap in to the skill needs of their local economies, which will all-too-soon be vital in ensuring vocational education can be sufficiently funded via devolution deals.

As the further education sector faces unrecognisable change as a result of the mergers proposed by Area Based Reviews, it will become more important than ever for secondary schools and colleges to collaborate. There are likely to be fewer colleges, and the remaining colleges will become more specialised.

It will be vital for us to work together to ensure successful and sustainable ease of transfer for young people moving to both vocational and academic study at college.

This is why the Skills and Education Group is sponsoring an AoC Beacon Award for college-school partnerships, to recognise where good practice exists and to celebrate collaboration which has a benefit to young people.

There are many changes and challenges ahead. The Skills and Education Group has been created as a response to these issues; to straddle the secondary and further education sectors with the development of new, relevant and robust programmes of study and qualifications; to develop understanding and cooperation between our sectors and to speak with a joint voice.

  • Paul Eeles is chief executive of the Skills and Education Group, which is being hosted by ABC Awards, a national awarding organisation, ASDAN, a curriculum development and awarding body, and emfec, a charity providing support to colleges. For details, visit


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