Update: 16 December 2015
Funding crisis in further education
By Ian Toone, Director of Policy and Research Services
Whilst school funding has largely been ring-fenced since 2010, no such protection has been provided for further education funding. Even the ring-fencing which has been given to schools has not been sufficient to keep the wolf from the door in many schools, as it has only kept funding at 2010 levels, so represents a cut in real terms.
In further education, however, the cuts have been far more swingeing. Since 2010, FE funding has been reduced by 16 per cent, with further cuts planned for the future. Public funding for FE is being cut by another 3.9 per cent over the next year, on top of an 11 per cent reduction in the adult skills budget. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), which oversees the FE and skills sector, has been tasked by the Treasury to cut its overall budget by 40% over the next five years, and there is concern that the brunt of this will be borne by FE.
Currently, full-time 16-19 year old students attract base rate funding of about £4,000 per year. This compares unfavourably with secondary schools, which receive an average of £4,700 per pupil (although there are huge variations between different local authority areas) and the higher education sector, where up to £9,000 per year can be raised through tuition fees alone.
Science and maths
Sixth forms in schools and sixth form colleges have enjoyed more generous funding in the past, but over the last five years they, too, have been brought down to the FE sector average. One area where this is having an impact is on the delivery of science courses. Many providers are finding it difficult to sustain courses in the sciences, leading to students having to enrol on less expensive courses.
Another area of impact is mathematics. Providers are finding it difficult to recruit the additional maths teachers needed now that students who achieve below a grade C at GCSE are required to continue their study of maths post-16 (and even students who have achieved a grade C may be obliged to study level 3 core maths as part of their 16-19 programme of study).
Schools are facing a similar problem as the new maths GCSE (which started in September 2015) requires more teaching time to cover the increased content, thus necessitating more maths teachers.
Many colleges are having to increase class sizes, cut less popular or more expensive provision and reduce staffing levels in order to address budget shortfalls. This often leads to restructures, redundancies and mergers.
Colleges are also facing additional costs because of statutory increases to employers’ National Insurance contributions, pensions, salaries (including incremental progression) and general inflation.
Unfortunately, management responses in the face of such financial pressures can sometimes be counter-productive, following a model of crisis management or seeking short-term solutions, cutting corners or taking imprudent risks.
This has not been helped by the Government’s announcement that it is seeking to reduce the number of post-16 providers by calling for mergers to increase prospects for greater efficiency and fi nancial stability. This will be achieved through a series of area-based reviews over the next two years.
Voice continues to warn against mergers that are driven by financial decisions rather than educational factors and is collaborating with other organisations in lobbying the Government to curb the cuts to FE.
[Article written for November 2015 issue of the members’ magazine, Your Voice.]