Is it time for a career-focused college prospectus?

On 25th February, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan addressed the Association of Colleges, and posed an important question about FE colleges and career focus. After highlighting that there are currently 13,000 qualifications available to 16-18 year olds, she asked:

“How can a student know what the best route is for their chosen career?
How can a student know which qualifications will be most relevant?
How can a student know what will be valued by potential employers?
Simply put: it is very difficult.”

There are so many education options available to both school leavers and adult learners, it can be confusing to know where to begin.

How do students choose between traditional academic qualifications, vocational qualifications, traineeships, apprenticeships and technical qualifications? Whether to choose a level 1, 2, or 3 course? Full-time or part-time? The options are almost limitless.

Many students choose courses at FE Colleges because they have long-term career goals, and want to gain the relevant qualifications to pursue a particular job.  In fact, recent research showed the second biggest reason students chose to study a vocational course at an FE college was because they had a definite future career in mind and wanted to do the relevant qualifications.1

How do students decide what the best course for them is?

With responsibility for careers advice now falling to individual schools, but with no additional funding to deliver it, many students are receiving inadequate guidance when it comes to making choices about their education. In 2013, Ofsted reported that “only one in five schools were effective in ensuring that all students were receiving the level of information they needed.” For FE Colleges offering vocational courses, the situation becomes worse – Ofsted found that vocational training and apprenticeships were rarely promoted effectively, especially in schools with sixth forms.2

Other influencers, parents in particular, are increasingly confused about the vocational options open to students age 16+, with 49% admitting that they ‘do not fully understand what educational alternatives are available outside of GCSE, A-Level and university’.3

For many FE Colleges, potential students are looking at their courses without independent, informed support from school career guidance services or parents.

FE College prospectuses and websites contain huge amounts of information about courses, but because of the way it is structured, it is often hard for students to know where to begin.

Giving students real career-based information, such as local employment options, can also help them to make better choices when it comes to course selection.

Giving students real career-based information, such as local employment options, can also help them to make better choices when it comes to course selection.Giving students real career-based information, such as local employment options, can also help them to make better choices when it comes to course selection.

Since September 2013, all FE and sixth form colleges have been required to provide access to independent careers guidance for students. The Department for Education has recently issued guidance recognising that providing information about the labour market can inspire young people to get excited about a range of careers. The Department for Education has also suggested that students may need help accessing information about the various routes into different careers – a career-focused prospectus can be a useful tool in the delivery of this type of information.4

Why is it important to help students chose the right course?

The number of young people staying in education or training is rising – thanks to Government schemes like raising the participation age, the Youth Contract and the Work Programme.

Choosing the wrong course, or wrong level of study, can have significant consequences for students. Both academic and vocational qualification completion rates suffer when unsuitable courses are chosen, as highlighted in a report for the Local Government Association:  “Poorly informed choices may also have a significant influence on dropout rates from further education.” 5

The popularity of Higher Education course finder websites like and demonstrates the need for career-focused search tools – allowing students to work back from a chosen career to the qualifications they need to get there. By implementing a career-focused search function on FE College websites, and structuring the prospectus to reflect career paths, Colleges can add value to the student experience, and help them choose the right course, without the need for third-party course comparison sites.

1 Economic, Social, and Personal Outcomes of Vocational Qualifications.  London Borough Council, 2013:

Going in the right direction?  Ofsted, 2013:

Do as I say, not as I do.  City & Guilds, 2014:

Careers guidance and inspiration – Guidance for general Further Education colleges and Sixth Form colleges.  Department for Education and Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, 2015:

Achievement and retention in post 16 education.  Local Government Assocation, 2015:

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