The Further Education (FE) sector is vast. Our modern lives now demand a bespoke education service; something that fits our specific financial, time and location requirements. The more the FE sector has to offer, the broader the range of participants. This is one of the key strengths of this field. There’s something for everyone.
But what are the different components of the industry? Below is an overview of the different types of organisations that make up this area.
Synonymous with FE, colleges are familiar to us all as they attract students from all walks of life. They offer a range of courses and qualifications covering the academic, vocational and leisure learning spectrum. In recent times it has become possible to complete Higher Education qualifications in this setting too, most commonly Foundation Degrees. Younger learners are more frequently accommodated after the introduction of the 14-19 Diploma as a vocational alternative to the GCSE/A ‘level route.
Colleges are often large organisations with well-established channels of support and community connections, often resulting in a broad range of employment opportunities. They can also vary in their focus and specialism. This is achieved by seeking out tutors with relevant experience and knowledge in their field, investing in cutting edge equipment and facilities, involving themselves in their chosen industry as a whole (by proffering opinion and expertise, producing literature) and promoting themselves as a beacon in their sector. They may receive specific funding to enhance their programmes, and have links with industry employers and professional bodies. Examples include:
- Arts colleges – expert in drama, music, visual and media arts
- Agricultural/land-based colleges - these may focus on agriculture, equine studies, animal care, sports and countryside management and pursuits, horticulture and arboriculture or fishery studies
Don’t be put off if your chosen subject doesn’t fall under the umbrella of subjects offered by a local specialist college. They can often deliver more traditional subjects too and every college has a commitment to ensuring students have the requisite English, maths and IT skills. You may also find that your subject can ‘cross over’ into new areas. For example, geography can lend itself to a variety of land-based subjects.
Some colleges focus on supporting certain groups of learners that have learning difficulties or disabilities. Their focus is on providing personal support and promoting independence through tailored learning and progression. Colleges in this area can support a wide range of needs, including physical disability, autism, learning disabilities and communication difficulties.
Sixth forms colleges
These are dedicated colleges for 16-19 year olds, sometimes (but not always) attached to a secondary school. You can expect to find an array of A ‘levels on offer, alongside less traditional equivalent qualifications such as BTECs. Whilst there may be a focus on academic subjects, changing times means an increase in vocational choices too. It’s also common for sixth forms to offer GCSEs. As such, some teachers to move on from secondary into this area of education, so you may find a higher level of entry requirement for teaching posts. Salary scales are often in line with that of the compulsory sector, offering incremental increases over time. Sixth forms often follow the ‘term-time’ pattern of working, which is less common in other areas of FE.
Set in prisons and youth offending organisations, offender learning aims to educate and support the rehabilitation of offenders, equipping them with skills and qualifications that will support them back into society. With a focus on basic skills and vocational training, there are a variety of sessional and full time opportunities in this unique environment.
Private Training Companies
These can offer a range of different learning methods aimed at varied groups of students. They may provide basic skills training, employability coaching or support work based learning (including apprenticeships) for those in vocational careers. Often these trainers are working on government contracts, and as such are targeted to support the achievement and progression of a certain percentage of their learners.
Typically organised by local councils, adult education services run both leisure and learning courses in accessible locations, like libraries and community centres. Their focus is often on maths and English, computer skills, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) plus a variety of creative, craft and hobby courses for adults. You may be surprised by what’s on offer. The breadth and diversity of courses often reflect the communities in which the centres are located.
Charities and not-for-profit organisations
Certain charitable organisations run courses, often targeted at a particular group of learners. This may be learners of a certain age, or from a certain background, or perhaps those living in specific circumstances. Often driven by a need and desire for social justice, charitable providers often seek to widen participation and reach members of society who may not otherwise be able to access education. As an example, the Workers’ Educational Association is the largest provider of this kind.
Some FE colleges run Higher Education (HE) level courses. They are not classed as universities, but offer degrees and foundation degrees that are awarded by a partnership HE institution.
You may also come across the term ‘university college’. These organisations offer degrees and can award them themselves, although some opt to work in partnership with other HE institutions. They are not officially classed as universities.
It is also possible to study at FE level in a university setting. This is commonly done via a ‘foundation year’. This year of study gives you the chance to prepare yourself for degree level study, gain credits and bring your skills and knowledge up the required level. If you apply for a university course, and it is felt that your qualifications or subject knowledge aren’t quite enough for direct entry, you may be offered a foundation year, with the understanding that if you complete it successfully you would then progress onto your chosen degree course. Foundation years can also be run in FE colleges.