Science, maths and computing courses are being damaged by unimaginative teaching, high drop-out rates, and poor facilities, reports a survey by the Further Education Funding Council. And higher education access courses are blighted by insufficient teaching time, it found, writes Phil Baty.
The FEFC's curriculum area survey for sciences found that the national picture of colleges' provision was "broadly positive". But quality is widely variable.
"The report contains numerous examples of good practice," said Jim Donaldson, chief inspector at the FEFC. "However, the report outlines a number of key issues which colleges must confront if this vital curriculum area is to prosper."
Almost 14 per cent of all enrolments in further education are on to science courses. But the report found that "often", less than half of the students enrolling gain a full qualification.
All courses were blighted by "low completion rates", but those studying for General National Vocational Qualifications were least likely to complete courses. "Low retention of students is a major issue in many colleges," the report said.
Students generally "display a sound understanding of their subject", but most "display weak numerical and algebraic skills", the report found. The take-up of GNVQ programmes has been slow, and the fledgling qualifications are unpopular with employers, it said.
Teaching was "broadly in line with other curriculum areas". Well-planned, "lively" lessons, were highlighted, but "there is a substantial volume of less imaginative teaching which barely addresses students' needs," the report said.
Resource considerations often determined the time allocated to teaching, ahead of curricular needs, it said. The widest variations in teaching time were found in higher education access courses.
Where teaching time was insufficient, materials had been developed to allow students to work in their own time. However, "where they have been developed, there is often insufficient support from tutors".
Students "do not have access to appropriate specialist software", and there are "not enough computer workstations in most of the classrooms in which mathematics is taught". Science equipment in many colleges was "old", it found.