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City colleges miss out on bonus cash

Three-tier funding system dismissed as divisive. Joe Clancy reports

Big city colleges are the major losers in premium funding allocations dished out to 73 top-performing further education institutions this week.

Of the 89 general FE colleges in large metropolitan areas, only five have been awarded the maximum 3.5 per cent increase under a new funding system.

Not one of the dozen FE colleges in the Birmingham conurbation, including Coventry and Wolverhampton, appears on the list of excellence.

The 12 colleges in the Leeds-Bradford metropolitan area also miss out, as do the five South Yorkshire FE colleges around Sheffield.

The disparity is highlighted by a comparison between London and the south-west region of the Learning and Skills Council.

In London, where there are 35 FE colleges, only two have been awarded premium funding. In the south-west, where there are 34 FE colleges, six make the grade.

A new three-tier funding system has been put in place in which poorly-performing colleges receive an inflation-only increase, colleges which are satisfactory get an extra 2.5 per cent, and colleges considered excellent get 3.5 per cent more.

The LSC maintains that 14 per cent of colleges qualify for premium funding, an increase on its initial figure of 10 per cent.

Yet that 14 per cent overall figure masks the fact that sixth-form colleges are way out in front of the premium rate league.

Of the 103 sixth-form colleges, 37 will get premium funding. Of the 20 agricultural colleges, five receive the full award. But of the 257 general FE colleges, just 24 get the 3.5 per cent rise. Seven specialist designated and external institutions also get premium funding.

Julian Gravatt, the Association of Colleges' funding director, said: "The FE colleges getting premium funding are generally in towns. There is a preponderance of smaller colleges."

John Brennan, the AoC's chief executive, said: "While we welcome the public recognition that there are 70 excellent colleges we have made it clear that we think the system is divisive and unhelpful. The interests of equal treatment of learners demand fair funding for all institutions."

The big city five are Lewisham college and Richmond adult community college in London, Bury college in Greater Manchester, Knowsley in Merseyside, and Newcastle in Tyne and Wear.

To be entitled to premium funding, a college must either be making good progress in implementing its three-year development plan, and be meeting or exceeding targets in relation to recruitment and retention of students and their success rates, or otherwise have received an excellent inspection report.

Graham Jones, principal of Sutton Coldfield college in Birmingham, said he was not surprised that not a single college in the Birmingham metropolitan area had made the list.

"The system favours those colleges that are not heavily into the widening participation business of dealing with the hardest to reach and hardest to keep students," he said.

Caroline Neville, LSC director of learning, said: "The LSC's approach is to reward success and drive out poor quality, and we are concentrating hard on both extremes.

"As such, we are determined to make sure that all the provision we fund is at as high a standard as possible."

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