IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Researching the area-based review process in London

Implications for vocational, technical and professional education and training opportunities.

Researching the Area-based Review Process in London

25 January 2017


London, like other regions of the country, is currently going through a process of area-based reviews (ABRs) of post-16 further education. Schools are not included, This will undoubtedly bring changes for the education and training provider landscape in the capital.

Further education colleges provide the bulk of vocational education and training in the UK as well as offering a second chance education for those who have not done well in compulsory education or need to retrain as a result of changes in the labour market and economy.


These institutions have been subject to constant policy reforms and funding reduction since they became independent incorporated organisations. These changes, together with increasing competition from other post-16 providers, have meant that a significant minority of colleges are now in financial difficulties.

The ABR process was designed by government to:

  • Create financially viable institutions
  • Meet each area’s educational and economic needs
  • Ensure that colleges are equipped to meet the needs of learners.

London is viewed as one area/region with four sub-regional groupings for manageability. The ABR will have major implications for the FE and skills system in London, which has been a focus of work for the Centre for some time.

There is currently no independent research taking place on the process and implications of ABRs nationally or in London.


The Centre has partnered with AoC London to undertake a small-scale, independent 3-year inquiry focusing on:

  • Preparation for the ABR
  • Experience of the ABR and its recommendations
  • Implementation.

The research aims to find the implications of this process in order to develop an effective vocational, technical and professional education system in the Capital that serves the needs of both learners and employers.

Results and impact

The research is ongoing. However, the report of the first year has found that:

  1. National policy – both the ABR process and the changes to technical education resulting from the Sainsbury Review could strengthen the role and provide a clearer mission for FE colleges. However, financial constraints may make it difficult for FE colleges to capitalise on these initiatives.
  2. The various stakeholders in the London ABR process can all see a rationale for it, but they hold different views about the way it has been carried out and its effectiveness.
  3. It is possible to identify two different but related approaches at work in the London ABR.

The key features of Logic A are:

  • A central focus on FE economic viability
  • A partial system approach with the relative exclusion of schools; general education; the marginalisation of sixth form colleges and little input from wider stakeholders.
  • A process conducted as a ‘sprint’ so that the economic aims of the ABR trumps the progression aims.
  • Insufficient consideration of the needs and voices of employers and learners.
  • The overall objective is to preserve competition between education and training provider, albeit with larger and more federated players.

The key features of Logic B are:

  • A focus on the improvement of vocational specialisation and progression pathways for all
  • Space for the involvement of employers and economic strategists that understand the unique features of the London and its skills base.
  • A Pan-London approach based on a holistic citywide picture and strong cross borough and sector frameworks.
  • Strong sub-regional ‘skills ecosystems’ within a Pan-London view of the distribution of vocationally specialist provision.
  • A longer and more inclusive ABR process that has time to consider the collaborative provision questions which are yet to be addressed.

We argue that both Logics are needed and could be easily related if they are viewed not in opposition to one another within a constrained timescale, but as two related strands in a longer and more deliberative process, allied to strong regional oversight.

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