Monday, September 26, 2011

FEWeek, college recruitment and the number of 16 year olds: is demography the answer?

Figures compiled by the Office for National Statistics in a UK National Population Projection show the number of 16 to 18-year-olds could fall by more than 90,000 from 2011 to 2015 – from 2,279,948 to 2,186,192.

Experts believe this could have an impact on recruitment figures for further education (FE) and sixth form colleges.

The article shows how future demography will affect colleges each year up to 2015. However, the immediate issue is how this is affecting colleges now.

The Office of National Statistics released data for England in 2009 show that there has been a decline in the numbers of 16-18 year olds (xls file). This year’s numbers of 16 year olds are 2.1% lower than last year. This figure is less than that found by FE Week’s survey of college enrolments suggesting that other factors have been at work.

This is not a new development as shown by the graph above showing the number of 16 year olds declining in recent years. In 2009 there was a 3.3% decline and last year a 1.5% fall. However, over the last decade there has been a rise in participation offsetting this.

FEWeek is right to point to demography. But the enrolment challenge must be seen in the broader context including EMA and other factors.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Inbetweeners, EMA and sixth form providers: what comes after the long rise in participation?

When I went to the cinema last week I wondered if all four of the Inbetweeners would have stayed on in the sixth form if they had been 16 a decade ago. Over the summer the release of NEET numbers got media attention but not the data showing the huge expansion of 16-18 education since 2000.

How much of the rise in participation was due to Educational Maintenance Allowances? It definitely played a role. The Institute for Fiscal Studies found that EMA was an “efficient maintenance allowance” increasing the proportion of eligible 16 year olds staying in education from 65% to 69% and boosting the participation of eligible 17 year olds even more.

One of the first acts of the Coalition was to wind down EMA as part of its £6 billion of ”efficiency savings”. This year 16 year olds will no longer be eligible for EMA if they stay in education. How will this affect participation rates?

There is anecdotal evidence that there may be an impact this autumn – for example, chatter on the TESConnect website. There has certainly been some pretty crude hard-sell in the run-up to enrolment trying to attract 16 year olds – colleges offering free laptops, even a school sixth form promising free driving lessons.

What this means for the enrolment of 16 year olds, the raising of the participation age to 18 and the funding of providers of 16-18 education will, no doubt, become clearer over the next few months.