The Department for Education has published its review into further education and sixth form colleges in Hertfordshire as part of a rolling programme of local area reviews across England. Hertfordshire LEP played a pivotal role in considering and developing options as part of a steering group that also included Hertfordshire County Council, each college’s chair of governors and relevant Government agencies.

The reviews are designed to ensure that colleges are financially stable, run efficiently and are capable of meeting the present and future needs of its students and employers. Throughout the review process, the colleges have worked closely with Hertfordshire LEP, local authorities and the review team by sharing detailed information about their performance and processes. The four general further education colleges included in the review were Hertford Regional College, North Hertfordshire College, Oaklands College and West Herts College.  

Hertfordshire LEP sought to establish greater engagement between colleges and employers to expand the provision of higher level apprenticeships within key growth sectors and to match supply with demand. The individual colleges will now consider the recommendations from the review and work in partnership with the LEP and local authority to ensure they are implemented.

Summarised below are some of the key findings from the report, set within the context of the needs of the Hertfordshire area.

Current patterns of employment
Overall, Hertfordshire is performing well across most key performance indicators in relation to jobs and employment.

The total number of jobs is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 0.8% compared to the national rate of 0.6%, with the proportion of jobs held by people qualified at a higher level set to increase by 10% between 2012 and 2022. At present, 58.8% of all people employed in the county hold higher skilled jobs.

The number of hard-to-fill vacancies fell from 31.1% in 2013 to 27.9% in 2015, which is below the national average of 32.9%, and the percentage of these vacancies that were caused by skills shortages reduced from 84.1% in 2013 to 69.5% in 2015.

Despite these positive figures, skills challenges still remain across a range of growing sectors including construction, life sciences, engineering and manufacturing. Hertfordshire’s long term productivity rate of 1.6% per annum has lagged behind the national average of 2.8% per annum from 2004 to 2013. Feedback from employers also indicate ongoing dissatisfaction with the basic and employability skills of education leavers, despite the efforts of education providers to remedy this.

The quantity and quality of current provision
The number of young people aged 16 to 18 in Hertfordshire will continue to decline up to 2019, however projections indicate an overall 22% increase between 2015 and 2030, creating a need for additional secondary school places throughout the county, which Hertfordshire County Council is currently planning for.

Hertfordshire’s four colleges work in partnership with the University of Hertfordshire to provide level 1 to 7 qualifications across a range of sectors including the priority areas of science, engineering, health and social care, business and professional services, however there is work to be done to make learners aware of the available alternate routes to further education such as higher level and degree level apprenticeships.

The colleges have identified several areas where provision will need to be expanded to meet future skills shortages, including health and social care, science and technology, accounting and finance, high end logistics, retail, film, media and sales. They will work with the LEP to ensure that developments remain aligned to local skill needs and priorities.

The current quality of provision for students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is good throughout the colleges, with Oaklands offering the highest number of funded places at present. However the review indicates an imminent shortage of places for those with the most complex needs, making this an area for further development.

Key areas for change
These include the provision of alternate routes to higher level education for those not intending to attend university, the need to grow apprenticeships within priority sectors, the need for high quality provision that will accommodate the growing population of young people, and the need to ensure the colleges in Hertfordshire are on a strong financial footing.

The Hertfordshire Further Education Area Review Report, College Annex and Data Annex are available to read in full on the DfE website.