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Colleges urge government to rethink funding cuts for 18-year-olds

Two influential college bodies have today written to the government urging it to reconsider controversial education funding cuts that will hit 18-year-olds.

Last week it was announced that from September 2014, all 18-year-olds in full time education would be funded at a rate 17.5 per cent lower than 16- and 17-year-olds.

The news provoked an outcry from the further education sector and today the Association of Colleges (AoC) and the 157 Group of colleges said that they had both written to skills minister Matthew Hancock urging a rethink.

Both bodies said colleges, which teach the majority of 18-year-olds, will be disproportionately affected by the cuts.

The AoC also commissioned research that showed that students from disadvantaged areas and black, minority and ethnic groups will be worst hit.

In a letter to the sector last week, the Education Funding Agency explained the need to make savings to the 16-19 budget in the 2015-16 financial year, as set out in the Chancellor’s spending review.

It said: “Ministers have decided that their policy priorities for this budget are to support the increased participation age for 16- and 17-year-olds, maintain additional funding for disadvantaged students, and as far as possible, maintain the national funding rate per student.”

As a result, savings would be made by reducing the participation requirements for full-time 18-year-olds, it said.

The AoC pointed out that the 17.5 per cent cut will see national funding rates for 18-year-olds set at £3,300, which is 40 per cent less than that paid for GCSE students.

Speaking to TES today, AoC chief executive Martin Doel said: “We all understand the financial constraints on the public purse, but this funding cut is ill-targeted, under-researched and full of unintended consequences for both over-stretched colleges and the students and communities they serve.

“We urge the Department for Education to think again and make these savings from elsewhere in their budget.”

Lynne Sedgmore, executive director of the 157 Group, said that the move would have “unintended consequences” that could threaten some of the government’s policies.

“The major impact of this funding decision will be on a large proportion of precisely the young people who need the most support from our education system – those who have been failed by the school system and those training to take up the highly needed technician jobs of the future.

“With youth unemployment a major policy priority, it seems odd that the very groups of young people most likely to become disillusioned by education and therefore possibly Neet (not in education, employment or training) should be targeted in this way.”

A spokesman for the DfE said that the funding changes would affect less than a fifth of post-16 FE students.

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