Post-16 Education


Further and Higher Education are the responsibility of the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). The Skills Funding Agency (SFA), an agency of BIS, funds adult education and skills, including the adult provision by FE colleges. FE colleges also enrol almost two-thirds of 16-18 year olds; this provision (including apprenticeships for that age group) is overseen by the Department for Education (DfE) and funded by the DfE agency the Education Funding Agency (EFA). The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) funds universities in England.

Legislation was introduced in 2013-14 on Raising Participation Age (RPA). It increased (in two stages) to at least their 18th birthday the age until which all young people in England are required to remain in education or training. The first cohort so affected were 16 in 2014-15. Vulnerable students aged 16-18 who are studying at school or college or on an unpaid training course are entitled to a bursary worth £1,200 if they:

  • are in or recently left local authority care
  • get Income Support (or Universal Credit in place of Income Support) in their name
  • are disabled and get both Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) (or Universal Credit in place of ESA), and either Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or Personal Independence Payment (PIP) in their name.
  • In addition, education and training providers set their own criteria for discretionary bursaries.

    A Public Accounts select committee report in January 2015 expressed concern about the continuing number of 16-18 year olds still not in education, employment or training (NEETs). It said that the number had come down because of the change in the law but that other interventions, such as careers advice, were not effective.

    Government policy is to focus on increasing post-compulsory and adult provision through apprenticeships, and to require employers to meet part of the costs of apprenticeships.

    In 2015-16 higher education institutions (HEIs) ended a period of transition with regard to their funding. HEFCE now makes grants for teaching high cost and some other courses, research and knowledge exchange activity. Most teaching costs are now covered by student fees and much research is funded by the research councils. Of the 120 universities in England and Wales, 113 imposed the maximum £9,000 fee for all undergraduate courses in 2015-16. Students are entitled to a maintenance loan and a means-tested maintenance grant for those whose family income is less than £42,620.


    Currently, 63% (773,000) of 16-18 year olds choose to study in FE colleges, with a further 71,000 16-18 year olds undertaking apprenticeships through colleges. In addition, 24,000 14-15 year olds and 2.6 million adults are enrolled in FE colleges, which also provide highly specialised courses for people with disabilities and learning difficulties.

    In June each year the DfE publishes the Statistical First Release (SFR) Participation in Education, Training and Employment by 16-18 year olds in England. SFR 19/2015, published in June 2015, contained the following headlines:

    • Participation in full-time education by 16-18 year olds rose by 1.6 percentage points between 2013 and 2014 to 71.5%, the highest level since consistent records began in 1994 (age 16 +1.9 percentage points to 87.9%, 17 year olds +2.8 to 76.8%, age 18 +0.6 to 50.5%).
    • At the end of 2014, the participation rate in education and WBL (work-based learning) of 16-18 year olds was 81.8% - an increase of one percentage point since the end of 2013 and the highest level on record.
    • The proportion of 16-18 year olds NEET fell by 0.4 percentage points from 7.7% in 2013 to 7.3% in 2014 – the lowest level since consistent records began.

    The SFA produces quarterly data on learner outcomes and qualifications. The January 2016 edition reported on the academic year 2014-15. There was a 10.8% reduction in overall adult participation compared with the previous year, at 2,613,700. This is a reduction of 1.3 million adults since 2010. There was a 2.7% increase in apprenticeships to 871,800, the highest number on record.

    The proportion of 18 year olds studying full-time in higher education institutions rose by 0.9 percentage points to 27.8% in 2014, the highest level since consistent records began.

    In 2014 the trend continued of rising qualification levels amongst adults (2008 figures in brackets):

    at least Level 2, 81.0% (73.2%)

    at least Level 3, 62.6% (54.3%)

    at least Level 4 , 41.0% (34.2%)

    Statistics for Higher Education in the whole of the UK are available on the Higher Education Statistics Agency website. Statistics include number of students, staff and expenditure.

    HESA reported that in 2014-15 there were 2,266,075 students in UK universities, a reduction of 1.4% on the previous year. Of these, 1,524,225 were studying for first degrees.

    Current issues


    The Spending Review announced in November 2015 made provision in FE for:

    • National base rate for full-time, 16-18 year olds fixed for four years at £4,000.
    • Adult education budget fixed in cash terms for four years.
    • Sixth form college academy conversion option (resulting in sixth form colleges not having to pay VAT).
    • Apprenticeship levy at 0.5% for organisations with payrolls over £3 million.
    • FE loans extended to 19 to 23-year-olds.

    However, savings of £160 milllion (2.6% of the total budget) are to be found in 16-18 year old funding outside the base rate. Funding sources for FE are to change from 2017-18, when the apprenticeship levy is introduced, and from 2018-19, when adult skills budgets are devolved.

    Review of Post-16 Education and Training ('Area Reviews’)

    In the summer of 2015 the DfE and BIS announced a programme of area reviews of FE and sixth form colleges in the context of the significant financial pressures on institutions. School sixth forms are outside the scope of the reviews. The government stated: “We will need to move towards fewer, often larger, more resilient and efficient providers. We expect this to enable greater specialisation, creating institutions that are genuine centres of expertise, able to support progression up to a high level in professional and technical disciplines, while also supporting institutions that achieve excellence in teaching essential basic skills – such as English and maths.”

    The programme was planned to be conducted in waves and completed by March 2017, but many of the first wave of reviews were delayed as a result of the complexity of the process and the vast amounts of data to be analysed. The reviews are led by a steering group consisting of the Chairs of Governors of each institution, the FE and Sixth Form College Commissioners, local authorities, Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and Regional Schools Commissioners.

    The pilot area review in Norfolk and Suffolk resulted in little structural change to post-16 provision.


    Apprenticeships are undergoing considerable reform, mainly driven by the Government’s target of 3 million new starts by 2020. The apprenticeship levy on firms with payrolls over £3 million (2% of UK employers) is planned to raise over £3 billion a year by 2019-20, £2.5 billion of which will be spent on apprenticeships in England.

    Two million apprenticeships were created between 2010 and 2015, mainly from starts in the customer service, retail, administration and care sectors. Ofsted has reported that many of these apprenticeships are of poor quality, with nearly half of provision judged inadequate or requiring improvement. Some 6% of 16-17 year olds are on apprenticeship programmes; 48% of all apprenticeship vacancies are filled by existing staff. There are few level three and very few level four apprenticeships. There are significant regional variations in the availability of apprenticeships in different sectors; there are fewer apprenticeships generally available in London and the South East than in the rest of the country, and manufacturing apprenticeships are concentrated in the Midlands, Yorkshire and the North East.

    New apprenticeship standards are being developed by employer groups known as “trailblazers” in line with recommendations from the Richard Review published in 2012. They were to become mandatory for all apprenticeship starts from 2018, although this deadline is slipping. There are 140 trailblazers involving over 1,200 employers; 129 standards had been published as of August 2015, of which 45 were Higher and Degree Apprenticeships, and more than 220 new standards are in development. Trailblazer apprenticeships do not necessarily lead to standalone qualifications.

    A new funding regime for apprenticeships is due to be implemented in 2017. Employers will be given funding control through an Apprenticeship Voucher. A pilot being trialled in 2014-15 and 2015-16 involves:

    • For every £1 spent by an employer on training the Government will contribute £2 up to a maximum cap.
    • There are five caps which depend on the apprenticeship being undertaken.
    • Additionally, three incentive payments are available to employers for recruiting 16-18 year olds, for small businesses and on the successful completion of the apprenticeship.
    • The Government will fully fund qualifications in maths and English to level two.
    • February 2016

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