Sixth-form colleges ‘prepare students for university better than FE’

University Campus Suffolk researchers find ‘natural progression’ into higher education is not found at every institution

October 24, 2015
Stepping stones

Sixth-form colleges prepare students better for university study than further education institutions, a study suggests.

Interviews conducted with teenagers in East Anglia by University Campus Suffolk academics found that there was a “natural progression” from sixth-form colleges to higher education, “which included even those students who had not considered progressing”.

In contrast, further education colleges catered “for more vocational students on different trajectories”, including directly into work and apprenticeships.

“The focus in the sixth-form college on progression to higher education meant that students at the college tended to be better informed, better prepared and more confident about progression to higher education,” the study says.

Researchers Clare Gartland and Christine Smith, who conducted the project on behalf of the Quality Assurance Agency, found that vocational BTEC qualifications did offer a route into higher education, wherever they were offered.

The qualifications’ use of coursework assessments allows for incremental improvements in grades to reach the standards required of higher education, and the gradual shift towards independent learning over the duration of the programme was praised by interviewees.

However, students taking BTECs were predominantly progressing to courses at post-92 universities, “not to courses at older or more elite institutions”, the report says.

Ian Kimber, the QAA’s director of quality development, said the research would “help education providers reflect on how their resources, approaches and processes can be improved to enhance the experience of students’ transitions into higher education”.

“Ucas data…show that there are increasing numbers of entrants to higher education with non A-level qualifications, and providers face challenges in supporting these students with their transition into higher education,” Mr Kimber said.

A second piece of research published by the QAA, conducted by Birmingham City University and Solihull College & University Centre, examines the experience of non-traditional students progressing into higher education.

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Reader's comments (1)

Presumably a robust well resourced and quality staffed FE sector that is strong in BTEC courses will be essential for the success of the levels 2-5 Trailblazer Apprenticeships in particular. Furthermore the apparent buoyant entry of this type of student to the post 92 universities valuably helps underpin a much needed national technical and vocational graduate dimention in the HE sector, including the potential to properly participate in levels 6- 7 apprenticeships. A serious flaw however remains the relative underperformance of techology development and research collaboration by and between SMEs and FE and post 92s, which could perhaps in part be transformed through extending and expanding the Doctoral training programme through the Apprenticeship scheme at level 8.

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