Budget 2020: What will it say about further education?

From capital funding to the national skills fund, there's plenty to look out for in tomorrow's Budget

Stephen Exley

There are big questions over leaked proposals of an £800 million boost for further education

Is this it? Will tomorrow’s Budget herald the long-awaited and badly needed injection of cash that will transform the FE sector’s fortunes?

Little has been trailed in the days leading up the announcement. This makes sense: it will be the Spending Review later this year that will set out the government's longer-term spending plans, rather than tomorrow's set piece.

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But that’s not to say that FE won’t feature in chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Budget – not least because there are a number of initiatives that have already been unveiled.

For starters, here are a few potential announcements to look out for.

Raising the rate

A £400 million package for 16-18 education, including the long-awaited raising of the base funding rate, was announced back in August 2019. But, given that this increase will come into effect this summer, don’t be surprised to see this wheeled out again.

National skills fund

A “national skills fund” worth £3 billion over the course of the next Parliament was included in the Conservative Party’s general election manifesto.

This would be “new funding on top of existing skills funding” for a range of courses, including apprenticeships. “This,” the manifesto adds, “will give individuals and small businesses the chance to level up with high-quality education and training, opening up new opportunities for the incredible talent that is spread throughout the country.” As yet, however, details have been thin on the ground. We could well see the launch of a consultation into how the fund will work.

Capital funding

One of the flagship policy announcements in the general election campaign was of £1.8 billion to transform the college estate. Over a five-year period, the money would, prime minister Boris Johnson said, be used to make sure the entire FE college estate was in “good” – or category B – condition by refurbishing and redeveloping existing facilities and purchasing industry-standard equipment. The first details of this programme could well be announced tomorrow.

Augar review

Theresa May was (just about) still prime minister when the Augar review was published back in May 2019. Since then, the government has remained largely silent on it. The initial received wisdom was that the recommendations for a radical rebalancing of post-18 funding between HE and FE would, thanks to opposition from universities and within the Department for Education, never see the light of day. The Tory manifesto touched upon its “thoughtful recommendations” but committed to nothing more than to “consider them carefully”.

However, since then, confidence has continued to grow that it could yet have a significant impact on the redrawing of post-16 education. The biggest clue was the appointment of Baroness Wolf, one of the Augar panel members, to the Number 10 policy unit – a move that would make no sense if the panel’s recommendations had already been ruled out.

Informed speculation suggests that concrete news on this is more likely to come out closer to the Spending Review. But don’t be surprised if this isn’t at least name-checked in relation to the government’s “levelling up” agenda.

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Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley is a freelance writer, director of external affairs at Villiers Park Educational Trust and former FE editor at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @stephenexley

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