Colleges get first bill of health

February 21, 1997

THE first further education performance indicators for England show that colleges are recruiting and planning successfully, but many students are dropping out and underachieving.

Between 1993/94 and 1994/95 the Further Education Funding Council assessed six performance indicators: achievement of funding target; student number trends; student continuation; achievement of qualifications; attainment of NVQs or equivalent; average funding level.

The council divided the college results into three bands - roughly the bottom quarter, the middle half and the top quarter.

The figures show that three-quarters of England's 425 further education and sixth-form colleges expanded their full-time student numbers between 1993/94 and 1994/95. For the middle group, the average rise in student numbers was 6 per cent, but the top group saw growth of 15 per cent or more. The growth in part-time students was far greater. For the middle group, the average increase was 12 per cent, but the top quarter saw rises of 47 per cent or more.

A college-by-college breakdown reveals a huge range in student recruitment. Halton College, in Cheshire, had a 169 per cent jump in the numbers of full-time students and a 77 per cent rise in part-timers. South Kent College, Folkstone, saw full-time student numbers fall by nearly 30 per cent while the numbers of part-timers leapt by 790 per cent to 32,433.

Despite expansions and contractions, colleges of all types planned effectively. Half of them were almost spot-on in terms of the accuracy of their strategic plans compared to the actual numbers of students they submitted to the FEFC in return for funding.

The average level of funding for the middle band of colleges was Pounds 18.79 while a quarter had average levels at or above Pounds 20.62 and a quarter at or below Pounds 17.. Greater London had the highest median ALF at Pounds 19.90 and the Southwest the lowest at Pounds 18.10.

The picture was less rosy when it came to the student continuation indicators. This measures the percentage of first-year students still on their courses by the third term.

For the middle band the average continuation rate for full-time students was 88 per cent, meaning that one in eight dropped out. A quarter of colleges had full-time drop-out rates of one in six or more while a quarter had one in 11 or fewer. Dudley College of Technology had a full-time drop-out rate of nearly one in three (a continuation rate of 64.6 per cent) though fewer than one in ten part-timers dropped out (a continuation rate of 90.7 per cent).

Esher College, Surrey, had a part-time drop-out rate of one in two (50 per cent continuation) but a very low rate for full-timers of fewer than one in 22 (95.5 per cent).

The indicators for achievement of qualifications are total qualification aims achieved, as specified in a student's primary learning goals, excluding drop-outs.

Half of colleges nationally had full-time achievement rates of between 57 per cent and 83 per cent. A quarter of colleges had an achievement rate of 84 per cent or below and a quarter had a rate of 91 per cent or above.

More than 53,000 students aged 16 to 18 achieved national vocation qualification level 2 or equivalent. This was out of a total of nearly 80,000 candidates. Similarly, 125,000 out of 188,000 students aged 16 to 20 achieved NVQ level 3 and 99,000 out of 149,000 aged over 21 achieved NVQ level 3.

FEFC chief executive David Melville said: "The indicators point to the enormous and cost-effective contribution colleges are making to post-16 education and training everywhere. Colleges will be able to use them to benchmark their performance compared with institutions of similar type."

The full tables are on the FEFC web site, http://www.wwt.co.uk/ fefc/fefchome.html

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