Colleges will benefit from an additional £20 million to support their preparation for the introduction of T levels, the chancellor has revealed.
In his Autumn Budget speech today, chancellor Philip Hammond said that having already pledged £500 million in funding for T levels in the Spring Budget, he could now announce an extra £20 million “to support FE colleges to prepare for them”.
Although not mentioned in the speech, the government also addressed the continuing pressure on colleges from compulsory GCSE resits in English and maths. According to the budget document, it will "test innovative approaches to improve GCSE maths resit outcomes by launching a £8.5 million pilot, alongside £40 million to establish Further Education Centres of Excellence across the country to train maths teachers and spread best practice".
Adressing parliament today, the chancellor also said he would “keep under review” the flexibility available to employers in how they use their apprenticeship levy funding. “We are delivering 3 million apprenticeships thanks to our apprenticeship levy,” he said.
Mr Hammond confirmed the launch of a “historic partnership” involving the CBI and TUC to give “strategic direction for a National Retraining Scheme”, and earlier reports that colleges and schools will be given £600 for every extra student who studies A-level maths.
But shadow skills minister Gordon Marsden said the fundamental issues of FE funding had "not even been touched upon" by the chancellor. "On the £20 million for T levels in colleges - do we even know if this is new money? This could actually just be a substantiation of the money which has already been announced," said Mr Marsden. He added the funding for a National Retraining Scheme "may prove to be useful".
David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC) said he had told the AoC's annual conference last week that the chancellor should take "a long term and moral view of investment in young people and adults to address the skills challenges which he has so eloquently described in today’s budget". "Unfortunately, he has chosen to make short term decisions which tinker at the edges," said Mr Hughes. "The uncertainty around Brexit may explain this cautious approach and we would hope to see more long term consideration in the next spending review."
He added: "Having said that, we have to welcome the new investment in the National Retraining Scheme, the focus on maths and the extra £20 million for colleges to deliver T levels. It highlights the commitment to high quality technical education. The prominence the chancellor gave to skills in his speech today suggests that the government is finally understanding the critical role colleges have in a post-Brexit world. The chancellor did, however, miss the opportunity to address the chronic underfunding of all 16 to 19-years-olds in education and training. The case we made in our joint campaign with school and college bodies shows that 16 to 19 funding levels overall remain inadequate to support young people to enter adult life. This must be addressed in the next budget and spending Review.”
And James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the The Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA), said the extra funding for maths students was "welcome". However, he added: “Our recent funding impact survey showed that over a third of schools and colleges have dropped Stem courses as a result of funding pressures, including further maths and core maths qualifications. However, this new package of measures does not address the fundamental underfunding of sixth-form education in England."
University and College Union (UCU) general secretary Sally Hunt said stafff in further education colleges had once again "been largely overlooked". "Pockets of funding for T levels and a national retraining scheme will do little to plug the hole in college finances left by cuts in recent years, or to address the crisis in further education pay," she said.