Former education minister David Blunkett has condemned the "complete inequity" behind education secretary Michael Gove's decision to slash funding for post-16 students.
Following colleges' criticism of the government’s decision to cut funding for 18-year-olds in full time education, Mr Blunkett – one of the most prominent politicians under Tony Blair’s former Labour administration – has waded into the row.
Last month the Association of Colleges (AoC) and the 157 Group of colleges warned that the move, which will see 18-year-olds be funded at a rate 17.5 per cent lower than 16- and 17-year-olds, would disproportionately affect FE institutions offering vocational qualifications.
In a strongly-worded letter to Mr Gove seen by TES, Mr Blunkett accuses the education secretary of making a change which will adversely affect students from disadvantaged backgrounds who are “doing their damndest to succeed against the odds”.
The most “disturbing” element of the move, he writes, is the “total lack of knowledge by those involved in modelling this change, about the nature of the students from most disadvantaged backgrounds… and therefore the complete inequity of the proposal”.
“If you and David Laws have been told that this will impact on school sixth forms equally with colleges,” he writes, “those advising you need to get out a bit more!
“The majority of school sixth forms (and specifically the development of new free schools such as the one in North Sheffield) provide A levels and not the vocational transition.
“Those moving seamlessly from GCSE to A level will not be affected, but those doing their damndest to succeed against the odds will be.
“The disincentive for providers and the complete skewing of future provision to academic routes only belies totally recent announcements by both your department and Matthew Hancock at [the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills]. The contradictions are astonishing.”
Mr Blunkett joined the AoC and 157 Group in appealing to the minister to rethink the plans.
He also sent Mr Gove a copy of a letter from Sheffield College principal Heather MacDonald, in which she claims that the funding cut is expected to cost the college as much as £1.5 million next year.
The Department for Education has insisted that the changes will affect “less than a fifth of students and amount to an average reduction of 2 per cent across all institutions”, with students with learning difficulties or disabilities being excluded from reduced rates.
Mr Gove told the Commons Education Select Committee last month that the “painful” cuts were being “forced on us” by the Treasury, arguing that reducing funding for 18-year-olds was the “least worst” option. “But I won’t say that it’s a good thing to reduce spending in this area,” he added. “It’s a difficult decision.”