Catholic sixth-form colleges face a “double discrimination”, through suffering from funding challenges faced by the wider FE sector, and also being unable to convert to become 16 to 19 academies, an MP has said.
Labour MP Gareth Thomas also told MPs in a Westminster Hall debate this morning that there is “no justification” to treat Catholic sixth-form colleges any differently from secular colleges.
Sixth-form colleges have been able to convert to become 16 to 19 academies since 2017, which entitles them to VAT exemptions; to date, 22 have. However, current domestic and EU laws prevent Catholic sixth-form colleges from becoming academies.
Under the 2018-19 teachers' pay grant, incorporated sixth-form colleges will not receive any additional Department for Education funding to give their teaching staff the same pay-rise rates as school teachers. However, those which have converted to academy status will benefit.
Conservative schools minister Nick Gibb told the debate that the government was exploring what can be done to allow Catholic sixth forms to become academies.
Mr Gibb added: “When the legislative framework for 16 to 19 academies was established, we did not envisage establishing these as faith-based 16 to 19 institutions. At that time, our view was that EU directive 2000/78/EC prevented the creation of new post-16 vocational institutions with a religious character.
'Unlikely' to end soon
"We had adopted then a blanket approach so that no post-16 provision could be established with a religious character. We are exploring how to put in place the right conditions to enable Catholic sixth-form colleges to convert to academy status with their existing freedoms."
Mr Gibb said it would require primary legislation in order to make the necessary changes, “and the government’s current legislative agenda does not provide the scope for such legislation”. The government will keep this under review, he added.
In response, Mr Thomas said this meant that the “double discrimination” Catholic sixth for colleges face was “unlikely to be ended any time soon”.
'Pressing need to raise the rate'
James Kewin, deputy chief executive, Sixth Form Colleges Association said it was good to see MPs make such a powerful case for Catholic sixth-form colleges to be treated fairly.
He added: "The government must move quickly to address inequalities such as eligibility for the teachers’ pay grant, that affects all sixth-form colleges, and the opportunity to academise – that affects Catholic sixth form colleges in particular.
"But by far the biggest issue facing all sixth-form colleges is the inadequate level of core funding – if ministers take one thing away from today’s debate it should be the pressing need to Raise the Rate of funding in this year’s spending review."