Priority 3: Cut bureaucracy


Priority 3: Cut bureaucracy

  • There is currently no coherent or co-ordinated approach to developing education policy for 16 to 19 year olds in England. This is largely because the Department for Education is structured to reflect the legal status of institutions rather than the age range of students.  

  • ‘Post-16’ education policy and practice is overseen by a skills directorate, which is responsible for colleges in the further education sector, but not school sixth forms or standalone 16 to 19 institutions. The resulting policy initiatives are almost exclusively focused on meeting the immediate skills needs of local employers.  

  • In addition to being of limited relevance to sixth form colleges (that have a much broader focus) these initiatives are accompanied by a significant bureaucratic burden that school sixth forms and standalone 16 to 19 institutions (overseen by a schools directorate) do not have to endure.

  • This exacerbates the range of funding inequalities faced by colleges. These are particularly hard to justify following the reclassification of colleges as public sector institutions (like schools and academies) in 2022. Young people should receive the same level of investment in their education irrespective of where they choose to study.   

  • Ofsted also takes a different approach to inspecting institutions based on their legal status. For example, only colleges are subject to ‘enhanced’ inspections to assess the contribution they make to meeting skills needs. 

  • Inspections of colleges and standalone 16 to 19 institutions are already significantly more exacting than school inspections. A school inspection will normally last two days, including when the school has a sixth form. A college/standalone 16 to 19 institution inspection can last between three and five days. A school with 2,700 students (including more than 900 in the sixth form) recently received a two day inspection, while a 16 to 19 academy with just 270 students received a three day inspection. This is disproportionate and a poor use of resources.   

  • There should be a single accountability and inspection regime for all institutions with sixth form provision.  School sixth forms, standalone 16 to 19 institutions, and colleges should be held to the same performance standards and inspected in the same way.  

  • The absence of a joined-up approach to 16 to 19 education also hampers market entry. There are currently separate processes for adding a sixth form to a maintained school, adding a sixth form to an academy, establishing a 16 to 19 free school, and establishing a 16 to 19 maths school. In addition, the decision to add or create new 16 to 19 provision is rarely linked to current and future capacity or provision in colleges.  

  • This lack of co-ordination has led to duplication of provision in many areas and has often delivered poor value for money. There should be a single process for establishing new 16 to 19 provision based on an impartial assessment of current and future demand in each local area. As a matter of course, this assessment should consider the potential for expanding existing high-performing provision (see Priority 5) to meet demand.  

  • Alongside this, it is vital that more autonomy is extended to all providers of sixth form education. Government micro-management should be replaced by a high-trust model of delivery where leaders have the freedom to tailor their curriculum and resources to meet the individual needs of students.  

  • This is a particular issue for sixth form colleges, as duties and requirements are introduced on a regular basis, but existing duties and requirements are rarely removed. The autonomy of colleges has been steadily eroded over the past decade and this trend has been exacerbated by recent reforms to the FE sector and the changes that have accompanied reclassification.  

  • To establish a much more co-ordinated approach to policy and practice, a dedicated 16 to 19 directorate should be created within the Department for Education with responsibility for all providers of sixth form education. Its first task should be to review and greatly reduce the bureaucratic burden on institutions. 

  • There is a pressing need for government to provide colleges, schools and academies with the freedom they need to deliver a world class education. This is one area where government can achieve a lot more, by doing a lot less.  

To read our full manifesto, with details of our five other priorities, click here.

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