UK College Funding Reforms Target ‘Mickey Mouse’ Courses

The UK government has tacitly acknowledged the failure of an incentives system where cash was given for each qualification passed. Instead, schools and colleges will now receive cash based on each 16-19 year old student they teach, regardless of pass rates.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said that the current system had seen colleges push students onto multiple short, and easy, courses in a bid to boost funding. More than 2,300 teenagers completed a ‘certificate in introduction to cabin crew’ which wasn’t accredited to any airline recruitment programme. Over 60,000 students sat an ‘award in sports leadership’ which isn’t required to work in the leisure industry.

He said the changes, which are being introduced from September 2013, would ensure that teenagers “reach adulthood with the rigorous qualifications, experience and skills that higher education and employers require”.

The government plans to increase the education leaving age from its current, long-standing mark of 16 to 17 next year and 18 in 2015. As part of this reform, Gove also announced that students failing to pass English and maths at GCSE level will have to continue studying these core subjects in the sixth-form. However, rules which fine companies who don’t confirm under-18 employees are also taking part in some form of training while working are being revoked.

Stephen Twigg, the Shadow Education Secretary, said it effectively meant the Coalition had “backtracked on its commitment to get all young people aged 17 into education or training from next year”.

“This is another blow for young people,” he said.

The problem with the fine system was that the compliance regulations discouraged companies from hiring under 18s in the first place, which reduced the placements available for those youngsters with vocational aspirations.

The funding changes are designed to remove the skewed incentive system that was harming students by creating pressure for them to take worthless qualifications. Instead, colleges will now be encouraged to focus resources on high-quality programmes. School leaders have expressed concern that the changes will mean they have to restrict students to only sitting 3 A-levels, but the Department of Education has offered to protect funding for at least three years and insists that levels will be adequate to cover more than three A-levels.

But Malcom Trobe, policy director at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The critical issue is how much money will each individual student bring and we won’t know that detail until later in the year.”