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Post 16 Education and Training in Norfolk

May 25, 2018 1:23 PM
Originally published by Liberal Democrat Group on Norfolk County Council

Education is the key to giving young people the best opportunities in life and Norfolk consistently lags behind in the number of young people achieving qualifications beyond the age of sixteen.

At the age of 16 a young person can make a choice about where to continue their learning. Young people have to stay in some form of learning/training until at least their 18th birthday. Most stay in school or college, but there are lots of other options available:

  • Full time education in a school sixth form or college
  • An apprenticeship or traineeship
  • Employment combined with part-time education or training.

Norfolk County Council has to ensure that there is enough, suitable education and training provision to meet the needs of young people aged 16-19 (and up to 25 for those with learning difficulties or disabilities), and to oversee the provision and take-up of education and training so that young people meet their duty to participate up to age 18.

Provision in Norfolk

In Norfolk the organisations that provide post 16 education and training are:

  • Independent training providers that include employers deliver publicly funded training through Apprenticeships, study programmes or employer based professional development.
  • Further education colleges who provide predominantly vocational training at a range of levels through classroom and work based training, study programmes and apprenticeship provision.
  • School sixth forms and sixth form colleges who usually deliver academic classroom based provision at level 3 through study programmes. Some schools and sixth form colleges offer a broader mixed curriculum of academic and vocational classroom based training at level 2 and 3.

The map below shows the range of providers and their geographical locations across Norfolk.

Post 16

Colleges across the county are facing huge financial strains. A report to the County Council's Children Services Committee on 13 March 2018 commented that - Funding changes and a renewed focus on quality has also seen the county lose a number of high profile, and established, independent Apprenticeship Training Providers recently including Norfolk Training Services and Apprenticeships Broadland.

Norfolk County Council is currently developing a range of new projects to re-focus recruitment to 16 to 17 year olds, support more vulnerable individuals into Apprenticeships and address the recruitment issues faced in the service sectors, where Apprenticeship vacancies go unfilled. This includes supporting a trial Apprenticeship Training Agency (ATA).

What is the quality of provision in Norfolk?

Across Norfolk 78% of colleges and schools with sixths forms are currently judged good or better. Among training providers, usually run as private businesses, the percentage of institutions good or better currently stands at 84%.

Norfolk has maintained a steady increase until this year in the percentage of young people age 16 and 17 who are participating in education or training and has performed well compared to England and statistical neighbours.

However, performance across Norfolk taken later in the academic year demonstrates that participation decreases whilst nationally it increases. This indicates that a greater proportion of young people in Norfolk drop out of provision and/or that there is a lack of sufficient and suitable re-engagement provision so that although overall participation has increased, higher than average Not in Employment Education or Training (NEET) figures cause concern.

Norfolk has twice the percentage compared to England of young people in employment without accredited training and highlights that 'a job', especially at age 17, is the preferred choice for many.

Young people achieving GCSEs Grades A-C but not at sufficient grades to be accepted onto an A level course at sixth form can struggle to find appropriate and accessible post 16 learning. This means that young people with fewer qualifications, those with a more practical preferred learning style, or those who want to study vocational subjects are disadvantaged and have to travel longer distances than their peers who are studying for A-levels.

This is a particular issue in some parts of the county. 'Travel to learn' distances in Norfolk are above national averages for all levels and types of provision with substantial barriers to vocational education access in North Norfolk and Breckland.

For those who need foundation provision or re-engagement provision, who are often those likely to become/remain NEET, the offer is patchy. Independent providers can struggle to maintain a financially viable offer due to funding regulations, pockets of small numbers of NEET in different geographic areas and fluctuating numbers of learners. This means that the young people at greatest risk of becoming or remaining NEET, particularly from the north or Breckland are often the most disadvantaged and have the greatest distance to travel for appropriate learning.

Liberal Democrat View

Photo of Ed MaxfieldCouncillor Ed Maxfield comments that increasing post 16 education and training is a key priority for the Norfolk Liberal Democrats.

'We want everyone to get the most out of life and that there is an equality of opportunity to access services. This is clearly not the case in Norfolk for post 16s at the moment.

I have raised it as an issue at the County Council resulting in a report to the Childrens Services Committee and a set of priorities agreed for the way forward. I have highlighted worries about the future of provision of college places in rural areas - the merger of City College with Paston College in North Walsham may provide short-term security but what are the long term plans for courses in North Walsham? My Liberal Democrat colleague Dr Marie Strong has long fought to maintain transport support for students in rural areas.

Control of so much of education policy and planning has been handed to unaccountable bureaucrats. The County Council has only limited funds and powers to back up its obligations to ensure adequate provision of post 16 opportunities. Change needs to come from central government too - giving people more say over what happens in their communities.

Higher Education providers need to step up to the plate too. UEA and other HE providers in the county have an obligation to invest in Norfolk's children to support them to achieve their ambitions. But the County Council has a role here too. As I pointed out at the May 2018 Children's Services committee meeting, the HE Access team at County Hall does great work but it is almost literally made up of two men and a dog.

The need for action to increase opportunities and participation is clear. We will continue to press for improved access and provision for post 16 Education and training across Norfolk.'