FE colleges failing disadvantaged learners

11 December 2013

Further education colleges must do more to help underachieving school leavers pass GCSE English and maths, according to a new report from CentreForum.

‘Smarter accountability in Further Education’ suggests that colleges are uniquely placed to be “engines of social mobility” as many of their learners come from disadvantaged backgrounds and have left school with poor literacy and numeracy skills. Yet it finds that colleges are not currently fulfilling this role.

The report warns that the new requirement for 16-18 year olds to continue studying English and maths if they achieve less than C grade risks being a “tick box exercise”. This is because the government has excluded literacy and numeracy from the top line performance measures for post-16 education, it says.

The report argues that, while their remit is unavoidably wide, colleges’ attention must be fixed on individuals who have fallen behind in English and maths. It says that helping these individuals catch up by the time they leave college will strengthen their chances of getting a job.

To that end, the report urges the government to rethink its approach to accountability in further education and make English and maths GCSE results a key performance measure for colleges. It calls on Ofsted to be much tougher on colleges that fall short on improving learners’ literacy and numeracy skills. Colleges that operate in areas with a high NEET* rate should be not be considered as 'good' or 'outstanding' by Ofsted, the report says.

The report also calls for stronger links to be established between colleges and the business community, and for businesses to step in when a college is shown to be underperforming. It points to earlier CentreForum research which stressed the importance of bringing industry into the classroom to equip learners with the skills needed for employment.

Sam Cannicott, report author and CentreForum research associate, said:

“The government is right to expect young people without good GCSEs in English and maths to continue studying these subjects. But the new accountability measures fall short. It is the top line measures that will drive colleges' behaviour, yet literacy and numeracy provision is excluded from them. There is a now a risk that the new requirement could turn out to be little more than a tick box exercise.”

“For many young people, colleges provide the last opportunity to develop their English and maths skills to the levels expected by employers. For that reason, colleges have what is essentially a moral responsibility to focus on delivering excellent provision in these areas.”

*NEET (Not in education, employment or training)


The CentreForum report ‘Smarter accountability in Further Education’ by Sam Cannicott is available here.

CentreForum is an independent public policy think tank and Prospect Magazine's UK Economic and Financial Think Tank of the Year 2013.

Greater clarity needed in long term infrastructure funding to boost private sector involvement, says CentreForum

2 December 2013

- Think tank report shows that concerns exist over insufficient user and taxpayer funding to sustain infrastructure projects over their life cycle, rather than a lack of private sector capital

- The report recommends that the published list of infrastructure projects promoted by government is reviewed and amended to deliver greater clarity around how projects are to be funded and to help investors make choices about their financial involvement. 

A new report from CentreForum urges the government to be clearer when calculating and communicating its national infrastructure programme. It says the current ‘wish list’ of projects, which infrastructure minister Lord Deighton has been asked to convert into a programme, is in danger of sending the wrong signals to investors, who are not confident that projects will get long term funding.

The problem, the report argues, is not caused by a lack of private sector financing for the initial phase of infrastructure projects, but by a perception in the minds of some investors that there is insufficient user and taxpayer funding to sustain these projects over their life cycle.

CentreForum’s research did not come across an example of a single funded, well structured infrastructure project in the UK which failed to get off the ground through lack of financing. Indeed, it found that institutions are actually queuing up to invest in good, funded projects.

In 2010, the coalition government planned to raise infrastructure spending levels to £200 billion over the course of the parliament. To ensure that the government meets this level of sustained investment, greater clarity is needed around how projects are to be funded to help investors make choices about their financial involvement.

Lord Deighton’s infrastructure programme is expected to be announced at the time of the Autumn Statement on 5 December.

Quentin Maxwell-Jackson, report author and CentreForum Research Associate, said:

“It’s time for the government to inject much more realism into the UK’s infrastructure plans. That means making it absolutely clear how essential infrastructure projects are going to be paid for, and prioritising projects so that we get the greatest benefit from what we can afford to pay.”


'Build the infrastructure, bin the wish list' can be downloaded here. The report recommends

1. That the forthcoming revised UK infrastructure programme needs to:

- be clearer about what the UK can afford to fund;

- prioritise projects to meet UK needs;

- take a system wide approach to priorities, including opportunity costs.

2. Look to use Tax Incremental Financing more so that those who benefit from infrastructure investment bear some of the costs of construction.

3. Increase user charging in sectors such as road transport where these are easily captured.

4. Continue to improve the efficiency of government procurement and infrastructure development.

Raise educational standards by giving teachers ownership of their professional development

19 November 2013 

Think tank report welcomed by schools minister, select committee chair and education experts
Teaching profession urged to adopt formal system of continuous professional development (CPD) 

School teachers should be given greater responsibility for their continuous professional development or 'CPD', according to a new report from CentreForum.

Welcomed by the schools minister and the chair of the Education Select Committee, the report says that helping teachers stay up to date will raise standards and have a transformative effect on pupil achievement.

It recommends that every teacher in England should have a bespoke CPD plan to deepen their subject knowledge and teaching skills over the course of their career.

Formal systems of CPD already exist in other professions including law, accountancy and medicine. The report urges the teaching profession to follow suit.

It contrasts the support given to England's 400,000 teachers with that provided in other developed nations which invest much more in teacher CPD and in some cases set stringent minimum time requirements. Teachers in world leading Singapore, for example, are expected to engage in 100 hours of professional development every year.

In addition to individual CPD plans, the report calls for new post teacher training qualifications and recertification, an expansion of the Education Endowment Fund's remit to give teachers greater access to the latest research, and a government backed pilot scheme that would afford teachers a personal budget to fund their CPD costs.

It also joins calls for a new Royal College of Teaching, suggesting that this institution would be ideally placed to lead on the professionalisation of teacher CPD.

James Kempton, report author and Associate Director of Education and Social Policy at CentreForum, said:

"Giving teachers access to career long learning is the missing piece of the jigsaw as far as education reform is concerned. Teachers are committed to lifelong learning but the support for it is just not there at the moment, and it should be. Better qualified teachers can create a more challenging and effective learning environment for pupils."

David Laws MP, Minister of State for Schools, said:

"An autonomous school system can only be as good as its professional workforce. The government is committed to helping schools and teachers take more responsibility for their professional development, and we welcome this contribution to the debate."

Graham Stuart MP, Chairman of the Education Select Committee, said:

"There are currently vast differences in the quality of teaching in our schools. It is essential in a self improving school system that we also have a self improving teaching profession. Giving teachers ownership of their professional development has to be the right way forward and I commend the report's recommendations."

Chris Husbands, Director of the Institute of Education, said:

"James Kempton's paper is an important contribution to an important debate: how we raise the quality of teaching in all our schools. Teachers have not failed, but the demands of change require a concerted, long term programme to build a contantly improving profession."

Russell Hobby, General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said:

"As CentreForum's report suggests, high quality professional development could make a profound difference. It has a reach and scale beyond many of the currently favoured initiatives on recruitment and performance management. It makes a difference to every teacher and recognises their professionalism and talent."

"It is also right that teachers should take ownership of their development and direct their learning to meet the needs of their students. It should be done by, not done to, the profession. CentreForum's report throws down a gauntlet to the profession to take the lead on this. There is a lot more we could do and this report provides sound recommendations for a more coherent strategy."

Roy Blatchford, Director of the National Education Trust (NET), said:

"The great school systems of the world appoint the best graduates in society to teach, and then invest significantly in their training and development. This investment is not only in initial training but throughout a teacher's career. Our own schooling system needs to do the same, unequivocally."

We have a globally benchmarked set of teachers' standards, and these need to be harnessed to drive the quality of teaching in England's schools, for the benefit of the expanding pupil population we all serve."


The CentreForum report 'To teach, to learn: more effective continuous professional development for teachers' by James Kempton can be accessed via this link.

CentreForum water industry report creates waves in Parliament

7 November 2013

The Financial Times reported last week that the government is planning a "shake up" of the water industry. This was followed by the environment secretary's call for water firms to exercise restraint when setting prices.

Then there was a debate in Parliament where Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes MP urged ministers to implement the recommendations of our 'Money down the drain' report. You watch the debate on Parliament TV here (Simon Hughes' intervention starts at 18:12:18):