Around £200 million of the Department for Education’s sixth-form budget was left unspent, it has been revealed.
According to an answer to a parliamentary question by Caroline Lucas MP, co-leader of the Green Party, only £5.7 billion of the DfE’s £ £5.9 billion budget for 16-19-year-olds actually found its way to school sixth forms and colleges in 2016-17. The budget relates to the 2016-17 financial year, which runs from April to March, whule the funding allocations refer to the 2016-17 academic year, which runs from September to August for academies, and from August to July for other institutions.
The disclosure comes after a survey from the Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA) last October found that two-thirds of sixth form colleges had dropped courses as a result of funding cuts and cost increases. A total of 58 per cent had also reduced or removed the extra-curricular activities available to students, including music and drama, sport and languages.
Bill Watkin, chief executive of the SFCA, said three funding cuts and ongoing cost increases had made it “increasingly difficult for colleges and schools to provide the sort of high-quality education and support that sixth-formers deserve”.
“We urge the Department for Education to ensure that this £200 million underspend finds its way to colleges and schools in time for the beginning of the academic year in September. Planned increases to pre-16 funding and post-16 technical education have masked the funding crisis in mainstream sixth-form education – ours is the last budget in the Department for Education that should be underspent,” he said.
'Cutbacks and rising costs'
And Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The government must commit to addressing, as a matter of urgency, the severe underfunding of sixth-form education. Schools are being hit by rising costs but the situation in post-16 education is even more serious because these pressures come on top of funding cutbacks in the last Parliament. The short-term priority is to ensure this underspend reaches school sixth forms and colleges, but there is also a pressing need to conduct a fundamental review of sixth-form funding”.
Ms Lucas, vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for sixth-form colleges, said:“I know from my own constituency that school sixth forms and colleges are facing huge financial pressures, so it is hard to understand why £200 million of the sixth-form education budget has not reached the education frontline. The government needs to clarify where this money has gone and ensure that it is redirected to school sixth forms and colleges as soon as possible”.
A spokesman for the DfE said: "Post-16 funding per student is protected and we have ended the unfair discrimination between colleges and sixth forms. We do not accept the analysis used. Funding is based on the number of students who take up sixth form courses and this won’t always be the same as the anticipated numbers.”