Construction courses in further education colleges are suffering recruitment and retention problems and are "under threat of closure", inspectors have said.
With a relatively buoyant construction market and a high level of employer demand for skilled workers, the range of courses has increased with 261 colleges now offering them.
But many of these courses are under threat, with few colleges aware of their true operating costs, despite construction being perceived as expensive and difficult to provide, says a report from the Further Education Funding Council's inspectorate.
The number of students on main construction programmes has risen by 22 per cent over the past three years. But this masks a drop in recruitment of students at levels the industry most needs: NVQ 3 in crafts and levels 2 and 3 technicians, the report says.
While overall retention and pass rates have improved in the same period, the number of construction students who gain a qualification, compared with those who start the course, is "very low".
The report adds: "Students face significant barriers in progressing to higher-level qualifications or to employment. The framework of qualifications remains over-complex and students are unable to accumulate credit towards a full vocational qualification."
The difficulties have been exacerbated by a 20 per cent fall in the recruitment of senior executives from the construction industry to college governing bodies. There has also been a loss of professionally qualified construction teachers, mainly due to college restructuring.
Inspectors suggest there needs to be more collaboration between colleges to share good practice, and more cooperation between schools and colleges in encouraging pupils onto construction courses.
• The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors' move to withdraw accreditation from 15 surveying courses has come under fire from the Chartered Institution of Building, writes Olga Wojtas.
John Bale, CIOB president, said the move could have knock-on effects, because construction and built environment disciplines formed an interrelated pattern of provision.
• Skill, the national bureau for students with disabilities, has launched a guide to careers in surveying, building and architecture for disabled people.