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Getting value for money from the education of 16 to 18 year olds

Increases in expenditure on education for 16- to 18-year-olds, which now stands at £6 billion per year, have been matched by improvements in students’ achievements and increasing participation of 16- to 18-year-olds in education. Nevertheless, the National Audit Office cannot conclude that value for money is being delivered across the system because of variation in the arrangements for accountability, performance monitoring and intervention where poor performance exists.

Students achieve, on average, better academic progress and results in institutions educating large numbers of 16- to 18-year-olds, whether colleges or school sixth forms. Sixth-form colleges perform best on most measures of student achievement, despite currently receiving £280 per student less funding than school sixth forms. The Department for Education has taken steps to reduce inconsistency in how different provider types are funded and has committed to bringing the funding levels for school sixth forms into line with colleges by 2015.

Although there are clear arrangements for dealing with poor performance in colleges, there is no consistent approach to dealing with poor performance in school sixth forms. In addition, the inspection frameworks and performance and financial reporting requirements for the various types of provider are not consistent.

Many schools and colleges have improved their management of back-office costs through good practice in procurement. However, direct costs including teaching staff account for over 60 per cent of a provider’s costs and some providers have a poor understanding of how to manage these costs. The Department for Education needs to understand better how expenditure can most effectively improve pupils’ achievement and progression to higher education or employment.

“There are some positive indicators of value for money in the Department’s expenditure on educating 16- to 18-year-olds. A number of issues will need to be addressed, including performance management and accountability arrangements, before I can conclude that value for money is being delivered across the board.”

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office

Notes for Editors

  • Most education for 16- to 18-year-olds takes place in either a general further education college, a sixth-form college or a school sixth form.

  • In 2009, over 1.6 million 16- to 18-year-olds participated in some form of education and training at a cost of over £6 billion a year. The proportion of 16- to 18-year olds participating in education increased from 75 per cent in 2002 to 83 per cent in 2009.

  • Responsibility for oversight of the 16- to 18-year olds’ education is spread between the Department for Education, the Young People’s Learning Agency and local authorities.

  • Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website, which is at https://www.nao.org.uk/. Hard copies can be obtained from The Stationery Office on 0845 702 3474.

  • The Comptroller and Auditor General, Amyas Morse, is the head of the National Audit Office which employs some 900 staff. He and the NAO are totally independent of Government. He certifies the accounts of all Government departments and a wide range of other public sector bodies; and he has statutory authority to report to Parliament on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which departments and other bodies have used their resources.

PN: 16/11