On Thursday 27 October a debate on colleges is scheduled in Westminster Hall to mark the fifth Colleges Week which took place between 17 and 21 October.

The college system

There are 228 further education (FE), sixth form, and specialist colleges in England, which provide academic, technical, and professional education and training for 1.6 million students each year. There are 26, 13, and 6 colleges in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland respectively.

The Association of Colleges has published an overview of the main facts and figures relating to colleges in England. It contains information and statistics on student numbers, courses, staff, and finances. A full list of the location and type of the 273 colleges in the UK is also available on the Association of Colleges website.

General further education colleges

General further education colleges are the most common type of college in the UK. They offer academic, technical, and vocational education to people of all ages. Available qualifications and courses cover levels 1 to 6, including A levels, T levels, BTECs, higher national certificates and diplomas (HNCs and HNDs), and apprenticeships.

Sixth form colleges

Sixth form colleges offer academic and technical education to 16 to 18-year-olds. Most courses available at sixth form colleges are academic level 3 qualifications such as A levels. However, it is also possible to complete technical courses such as T levels.

Specialist colleges

Specialist colleges offer post-16 education to young people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities. Many students attending specialist colleges have an Education Health and Care Plan. These colleges take a holistic approach to their students providing physical and mental care in addition to further education and training.

Library publications relating to colleges

Funding for colleges

The briefing Further education funding in England explains the different systems of funding available to further education providers in England, examines recent funding announcements and trends, and considers some related issues facing the further education sector.

See also the Institute for Fiscal Studies briefing Latest trends in further education and sixth form spending in England (October 2022).

On 24 February 2022, the Government launched a consultation on the ambition and scope of the lifelong loan entitlement, which, from 2025, will provide four years of funding for post-18 education for use over a person’s lifetime in both colleges and universities. More information is available in the briefing The Post-18 Education and Funding Review: Government conclusion.

Skills and Post-16 Education Act 2022

The Skills and Post-16 Education Act 2022 implements reforms set out in the Skills for Jobs white paper. It has created a framework to facilitate stronger employer and education provider involvement in local skills systems.

The Act placed duties on local education providers to cooperate with designated ‘Employer Representative Bodies’ to develop Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs). LSIPs will then help colleges to shape their provision to ensure it is responding to local labour market skills needs.

More information is available in the following briefings:


The Insight Level 3 qualifications reform: What’s happening to BTECs? gives background to the Government’s plans to remove funding from some level 3 courses that overlap with A levels and T levels from 2024. It explains the reforms, their implications, and summarises reaction from the college sector.

In response to concerns about the Government’s reforms, the then-Secretary of State for Education, Nadhim Zahawi, has said applied general qualifications, including BTECs, will have a “continuing and important role to play alongside A-levels and T-levels.”

Background to the new T level qualifications is available in the briefing T Levels: Reforms to Technical Education.

The briefing A levels, Scottish Highers, and university admissions 2022 provides an overview of the assessment, grading, and results of A levels and Scottish Highers in 2022.

Support for students with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities in colleges

Special Educational Needs: support in England. This briefing sets out the system of support for children and young people in England aged 0-25 with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

In March 2022, the Government published a review of the system as part of a green paper consultation. The briefing The Special Educational Needs and Disabilities and Alternative Provision Green Paper provides an overview and some reaction to the proposals.

Careers guidance

The briefing Careers guidance in schools, colleges and universities (England) considers the requirements on colleges in England to provide careers guidance, the quality of the advice provided, and also the organisations working to provide careers advice.

Transport to college

The briefing Transport provision for post-16 students in England outlines the arrangements for transport to education and training for students between the ages of 16 and 19.

Sexual harassment in colleges

The briefing Sexual harassment and violence in further and higher education considers the issue of sexual harassment and violence for post-18 students. For students in schools and colleges under the age of 18, see the Library briefing Sexual harassment in schools.

The Turing Scheme

The Turing Scheme has replaced the Erasmus+ programme in providing funding for participants in UK colleges to go on international study and work placements.

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