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Budget response: Chancellor 'missed opportunity', FE leaders say

T-level support and digital skills investment welcome, but funding issues were not addressed, sector leaders say in their Budget reactions

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T-level support and digital skills investment welcome, but funding issues were not addressed, sector leaders say in their Budget reactions

The chancellor has missed the opportunity to address the underfunding of education for 16 to 19 year-olds with his budget earlier today, according to sector leaders.

James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said on behalf of the Support Our Sixth-formers campaign that schools and colleges would welcome the chancellor Philip Hammond's decision to introduce a £600-per-student maths premium. "However, the chancellor has missed the opportunity to address the fundamental underfunding of sixth-form education in England," he said. "The government’s priority should be to ensure that schools and colleges receive the funding they need to provide young people with a rounded, high quality, education – irrespective of the subjects they choose to study at A level."

"The government has clearly listened to some of the concerns expressed through the Support Our Six-formers campaign – but there is still a long way to go to ensure all sixth form students in England get a fair deal on funding."

'Tinker at the edges'

And David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), said he had asked the chancellor to 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. 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."

Mr Hughes added: “The chancellor did, however, miss the opportunity to address the chronic underfunding of all 16- to 19-year-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.”

Digital skills

Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Training Providers (AELP), said the investment in digital skills was "welcome", but added that to help reverse the forecasts on UK productivity, basic digital skills training should be incorporated and funded within every apprenticeship. "The chancellor said that he would keep under review how apprenticeship levy money is spent.  It should be a very short review, because it is far too early to dilute levy spend on anything other than apprenticeships, especially after a 61 per cent drop in programme starts since the levy was introduced," said Mr Dawe.

"We have no issue with the youth rate of the national minimum wage being raised because social mobility is as much about a young person being able to afford to live as the offer of a job or apprenticeship.  But over the longer term, with the downgraded growth forecasts in mind, we must remain mindful of what employers can afford – there is a balance to be struck."  

Mr Dawe added the social mobility agenda would have been better served if the new investment in post-16 level 3 maths "had also been accompanied by addressing the inequitable funding in the functional skills alternative at this age for maths and English".  "Action has to be taken to improve attainment in the applied learning of these subjects which employers clearly want – £471 per learner doesn’t begin to do it.  We’re concerned that those who can are getting more while those that can’t never will."

Ian Pretty, chief executive of the Collab Group of colleges, agreed the measures outlined by the chancellor were welcome. ’The success of these measures will depend on fostering a genuine spirit of partnership between government and industry," he said. "Ensuring an employer led approach remains critical if we are to meet our national skills and productivity challenges. “

'Largely overlooked'

University and College Union general secretary Sally Hunt said: "Once again staff in further education have 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."  

And Tony Wilson, director of policy and research at the Learning and Work Institute, said the announcements of a partnership between the government, CBI and the TUC to oversee the new National Retraining Scheme was "a welcome first step in delivering the government’s proposed new retraining scheme". He added: "As well as focusing on specific sectors where there are particular skills challenges – like digital and construction – we would also like to a see a clear focus on delivering support to those people and places that are most likely to lose out from economic and technical change. In particular, that means prioritising the nine million adults who lack basic literacy or numeracy skills, the three million who are out of work and want to work, and the many more in low paid and insecure work."

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