A continuous decline in funding has resulted in colleges taking “on more than they have capacity to handle” to deliver breadth of provision, a new report says.
According to the Edge Foundation’s Our Plan for FE report, published today, cuts to both 16-18 and post-18 funding have mean colleges are facing a staff recruitment and retention crisis.
Class sizes have increased, the report adds, and learning hours per student have decreased, while breadth of provision offered alongside a stretched workforce has often meant that FE providers have taken on more than they have the capacity to handle.
Funding and the future of colleges
The report stresses that against a backdrop of a changing economy, growing skills shortages and Brexit, the FE sector urgently needs to review its identity and define a clear and positive way forward.
It says that the FE sector’s complex nature “has made it very difficult for the sector to define itself and focus on a clear direction. Alongside a longstanding lack of funding, this has created a variety of challenges among the teaching workforce and student population”.
“However, advances in the FE sector are being made and, in this report, we explore many examples of excellent practice, especially within professional and vocational education.”
The Edge report, which contains contributions from academics and stakeholders, as well as case studies from the four UK nations, says England can learn from the experiences of the other UK nations when it comes to FE. Colleges should focus on collaboration, forming collaborative groupings across geographical regions, specialisms and leading local education groups while bringing together other providers, including schools and higher education institutions, it concludes.
Neil Bates, chair of the Edge Foundation, writes in the foreword to the report that it was time to shine a spotlight on FE and “give it the support it warrants – first and foremost by addressing the inadequacy and inequality of its funding”.
He adds: “Hand in hand, with investment comes an expectation that FE will take the lead in providing the skills that are needed both now and in the future to allow businesses to compete and our economy to thrive. It is essential that the outputs from our FE and skills system are properly aligned to the needs of industry."
And writing for Tes today, Olly Newton, executive director of the Edge Foundation, says: "The impact of Brexit, of the fourth industrial revolution and now of coronavirus means that we are at a major crossroads for the economy. It has never been more important for us to effectively prepare the workforce of the future. The whole FE sector has a vital role to play in that mission."
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are making sure our FE sector has the funding and support it needs to give all learners the skills they need to succeed.
“We have committed to increasing 16 to 19 funding in 2020-21 by £400 million - the biggest injection of new money in a single year since 2010.
“We have also announced a further £24 million for FE workforce development to make sure we can continue to recruit and retain excellent teachers to help all students reach their potential."