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Further education provides ‘educational lifeline’ but is chronically underfunded, research finds


New research has revealed that the ‘life-changing’ social benefits of further education affect not only individual students but their friends and families too. However, the study also noted that the way that colleges are funded needs to change in order for further education to thrive.

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Dr Rob Smith

The three-year project, commissioned by the University and College Union, was carried out by Reader in Education at Birmingham City University, Rob Smith, and Professor in Education at Edge Hill University, Vicky Duckworth.

It aimed to identify the broad social benefits of further education, which often go unmeasured, but have an impact on individuals, their families and communities across the UK.

A series of interviews were conducted with teachers, students and their families over the three-year period. These were then followed up with two national surveys of further education students and staff.

The study highlighted the economic benefits of further education such as increased skills and education, but interviewees also detailed the importance of the mental health and wellbeing support that it facilitates.

Further education was identified as providing an ‘educational lifeline’ for students who hadn’t reached certain benchmarks in secondary school and adult learners returning to education, affording opportunities to progress from insecure or poor quality employment which has been associated with depression.

The report concluded that colleges are not only local hubs for learning and skills but are also key to community cohesion, mental health and wellbeing. They were found to be embedded in their local areas and have strong historical links with employers and local government.

However, researchers noted that cuts to further education funding over the last decade posed a threat to the maximising the full range of benefits for students.

Report author Dr Rob Smith explained: “Families can be affected in very positive ways by further education. There were cases of parents going back to education and their children were being influenced positively because of it. Our research showed it also worked the other way round: young people going to college had positive knock on effects for their parents.

“Funding for further education has been cut over the past nine years and the Byzantine way colleges are funded can lead to them prioritising favourable achievement data in place of a true learning experience.

“Funding strategies need to change to recognise the full spectrum of social, educational and economic benefits that further education brings. Those benefits should be recognised and rewarded financially.”

With a foreword by the Shadow Education Secretary, Angela Rayner, the report outlines a number of recommendations for the future of further education in relation to policy and funding, as well as highlighting the key ingredients that lead to truly transformative teaching and learning.

The report’s findings will be presented to Labour’s Lifelong Learning Commission (LLC) and stories of transformative teaching and learning from the project are viewable here.

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