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Further Education delivering educational success for all Posted on 13/12/2017 00:00:00 Reflecting on the FE Colleges Leavers Survey, the latest Employers Perspectives Survey and challenges faced in Northern Ireland Education system, Colleges NI have issued a statement.

The six regional Further Education (FE) Colleges in Northern Ireland support over 80,000 students annually across a wide ranging provision from entry level to level 5 and above. FE also plays a significant role in addressing educational underachievement, supporting business needs as well as enabling people to get employment and better jobs(1)

Statistics revealed by the Department for the Economy (DfE) yesterday demonstrate the important role that our regional colleges play in supporting the local economy and in transforming lives. The Further Education Leavers Survey shows that over 82% of those leaving FE Colleges progress on to positive outcomes in terms of studying at a higher level or progressing within work. FE Colleges are preparing our young people for the world of work with over 76% of leavers from FE Colleges being deemed by employers as ‘work ready’ compared to 60% of leavers from post primary education sector(2). This is vital for the economy of the future and in delivering on the outcomes within the Programme for Government and the draft Northern Ireland Industrial Strategy. 

One in five learners in NI who are studying a Higher Education (HE) course are attending a FE College (e.g. Foundation Degrees and Higher Level Apprenticeships), of which approximately one third progress on to an Honours Degree while the remainder progress in employment.  Over 82% of leavers undertook additional learning at a higher level on completion of their chosen course.

While Northern Ireland has 3% of the UK’s population, in recent years students from the FE colleges consistently represent over 10% of all competitors and medal winners at World Skills events demonstrating the quality of education and training delivered through our regional colleges. 

The challenge facing the entire education system at post primary, FE and HE is real and one that requires an Executive in place to facilitate a meaningful engagement with all stakeholders to develop plans for a coherent and efficient education system that delivers the future skills needed of our economy. Currently the Department for the Economy (DfE) is having to invest over £50 million pounds annually to support the work of the regional colleges in addressing the significant educational underachievement from compulsory education in the post-primary sector. Over one third of pupils leave school in NI without 5 or more GCSEs at Grade A*-C including English and Mathematics, the FE colleges are the primary means of redressing this issue. This duplication of funding required to achieve could be used elsewhere within the FE sector to support the expansion of higher level skills. Colleges working in partnership with the post primary sector support the delivery of basic literacy and numeracy skills as well as supporting the delivery of a wide range of professional and technical courses at key stage 4 and post GCSE.  This engagement has shown significantly improved learner outcomes, has highlighted the importance of professional and technical educational opportunities and a roadmap for future success and reform.

The Education Authority statement yesterday shows that schools are facing a significant funding gap – however, it should be noted that 83% of post-primary schools now offer sixth form, however, on average 14% of pupils are dropping out following one year of AS Levels. This represents 2,464 ‘wasted years’ in education (3), many then turning to FE provision. Furthermore, over one fifth of sixth form provision in NI schools has less than 100 pupils, which is neither financially sustainable, value for money nor genuinely meeting the learner or wider economic needs. Professional and technical qualifications education must be valued by all if we are to address the future economic needs of Northern. This requires some hard choices and a rethink on the prioritisation and use of limited resources across our education system.

With the review of 14-19 year old provision being launched, budgetary reviews ongoing and an outcomes based approach being espoused within the Programme for Government the opportunity for reform of our education system is urgently required. The FE sector in Northern Ireland is ready and willing to support.

Media Coverage

BBC NI website - Thursday 14 December BBC NI Website

BBC Radio Ulster Coverage - Thursday 14 December 2017 BBC Radio Ulster (50mins in)

BBC NI Newsline Thursday 14 December 2017 BBC NI Newsline


(1)     Survey of FE College Leavers published 12th December 2017 figures for employment progression experienced by leavers who had the same employer before and after their qualification – 13.2% promotion, 25.7% more responsibility, 56.9% better at job

(2)        Figures from Employer Perspectives Survey 2016

(3)        Department of Education annual statistics comparison


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