Blog: Are students completing sport and physical activity courses really employable?

I sat with a group of employers last week – four of them will be levy payers – and they asked us to outline the amount of investment dedicated to training people in our sector, writes Colin Huffen – AoC Sport Strategic Lead (Policy).

Tyne Met Classroom

Our very rough calculations estimate it’s between £1.1 and £1.4 billion per year. As I said, my calculations are rough but broken down;

  • 75,000 students in Higher Education – £600 million.
  • 400,000 certificates issued by awarding organisations for short courses, a conservative estimate – £300 million industry.
  • Employers invest £100-£300 million on internal staff training.
  • EFA and SFA invest close to £250m in apprenticeships and funding for a plethora of qualifications for 16 to 19-year-old students.

Astonishing hey? So why is it the same employers were adamant they can’t fill empty vacancies, they constantly have to retrain people once recruited, 20% of their staff are non-British passport holders and they regularly lose talent to other sectors, such as retail?

There is no denying it’s a complex problem with many different permutations that we could debate for hours…and we did. However, I found myself drifting off and concentrating on what I could influence in our part of the sector.

Clearly the £250 million investment into the college sector (admittedly a proportion of this is snaffled by training providers) is important to us for a few reasons. In turbulent political times of austerity Britain and the potential impact on immigration post-Brexit means the investment of taxpayer’s cash must be used in the most efficient way. But for me that’s secondary to making sure whatever we ‘sell’ to young people at 16 years old is actually fit for purpose and prepares them for a prosperous future in our industry.

So, with that in mind I looked a little closer at how that investment is spent (as you can imagine hours of fun digging through ILR data sets, thank goodness for David Corke and Matt Rhodes).



The biggest programme for 16 to 19-year-olds are level three applied general diplomas, a two-year programme with just over 26,000 students enrolled at one time, and with an investment of £112 million per year from EfA, the numbers have remained fairly constant over the past 10 years. 48% of learners progress to university on completion, though the entry requirements from HEI’s lack parity to those progressing from A Level. 52% – more than 13,000 students – per year don’t progress to further study on completion…so what happens to them?

Speaking to the same employers they very, very rarely employ anyone with a standalone level three applied general qualification. So it could be argued close to £60 million per year of taxpayer’s money is spent training someone for two years who isn’t skilled to meet the need of our employers. They will then need to re-train with further cash invested, in many cases the individual will self-fund this – hence the 400,000 certificates issued by awarding organisations in an industry that employs 500,000 people.

So, I ask myself, is that fair? Are we selling a dream to young people that at worst leaves them unemployable and in the dole queue, or at best makes them spend further time and begging, stealing, borrowing to study additional specialist qualifications. I’m happy to debate this, but that’s what the evidence tells me.

If I firmly believe this, which I do, what do I do about it? Firstly blog, then identify the solutions. There are some big things and some smaller, but it’s obvious I’m not going to be able to do this on my own!

You may have seen the recent publication of the post-16 skills plan, you may also have seen sport and physical activity isn’t listed in the proposed routes. That’s something we must tackle and I’ve started speaking to DfE officials about this, as well as directly asking Lord Sainsbury that question at the recent AoC conference (see that week’s FE news).

But there are some other more simple things, I want to work with you on your curriculum planning. Yes I completely understand the level three applied general is the ‘bread and butter’ of sports departments up and down the country, it’s easy to deliver and we’ve recruited teams on this basis.

Netball Jan 2012 Scotland Weekend Pic 6


But we now have other options available for teaching in 2017, a number of awarding organisations have developed a technical offer (interesting they have gained approval when sport isn’t technical according to Lord Sainsbury and the panel). By no means am I saying they’re right for every student but for me they provide a solution for some of the 13,000 students we’re currently misleading. If any of the above has resonated with you, it’s definitely worth careful consideration.

To finish on a shameless plug, the technical offer will be discussed in further detail along with lots more of the above at our Sport in the Curriculum conference on 24 January at Holywell Park in Loughborough. I look forward to seeing you there.