There is an acute problem in the quality of our further education (FE) establishments. A third of those which provide ‘low cost’ degrees, costing £7,500 or less annually, have failed recent inspection by the Quality Assurance Agency.
The agency is yet to publish a report addressing why 14 out of 45 inspected colleges didn’t meet the criteria sufficiently but it is evident that this is a problem for the entire educational system.
There is a potent question here: Do these further education establishments perform poorly because of their own management and teaching issues, or do their problems concern the lag from the failure of earlier education?
Students who have struggled with Maths and English for 11 years of primary and secondary education are unlikely to drastically improve over the next 12 months. 40% of students leave school without these core qualifications, and over half of these go on to retake the subject at a FE establishment. Yet, according to the QAA, only 7% of these students on average actually pass by the age they are 18.
Do these further education establishments perform poorly because of their own management and teaching issues, or do their problems concern the lag from the failure of earlier education?
As places on these courses and degree courses are set to expand under new guidelines, it is important that issues are addressed before more students are left at the mercy of failing establishments. Maybe forcing teenagers to retake subjects which have troubled them for the majority of their education is not the solution to the failings of our educational system.
Rather, it is no use simply criticising FE colleges, as they cannot work miracles on students that have already been failed by society. Encouraging all levels of education to communicate with one another more and to understand issues faced by individual students would help the students to learn and be enthusiastic about a subject.
We cannot leave students by the wayside, with no enthusiasm for education or knowledge of life. Neither can we allow students to complete degrees at these establishments. I am in no way elitist, but if FE establishments are failing to teach students the basics of maths and English, it is difficult to expect them to teach a degree.
It is no use simply criticising FE colleges, as they cannot work miracles on students that have already been failed by society.
There are, as always, exceptions to the rule. A high proportion of FE establishments also received ‘commended’ judgements from the QAA. Agricultural colleges specifically were commended for their positive work with students, which goes to show that these more specialised degrees are taught well in the correct environment.
Sadly, however, with 14 out of 45 establishments failing, a significant proportion of FE environments cannot be positive places for learning. It will be interesting when the QAA report is fully published, to see its criticisms and recommendations for improvement in the colleges themselves. For me, however, these failings represent a wider educational problem that all levels of the education system need to address.
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