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Exclusive: disadvantaged learners would be worst hit by FE cuts, research reveals

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Cuts to FE funding in the spending review would risk leaving many of the most disadvantaged learners with little opportunity of finding employment or progressing to university, new research suggests.

A major new study shared with TES, which for the first time makes use of a decade’s worth of official data on qualifications and their subsequent economic impact, suggests that such a move would leave thousands of young people  with “little chance of securing productive activity in the labour market”.

Cutting level 2 FE provision even “risks blocking the pipeline of potential apprentices”  and could threaten the government’s target of creating 3 million apprenticeships during the current Parliament, according to Professor Peter Urwin, director of the University of Westminster’s Centre for Employment Research.

His team of researchers from the university and the Fischer Family Trust were given unprecedented access to data from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which has been matched with information on earnings from HM Revenue and Customs, and benefits from the Department for Work and Pensions.

The researchers’ latest findings show that, among the most disadvantaged students who are eligible for free school meals, 13 per cent go on to achieve a level 3 qualification in FE. This compares with just 8 per cent who do so at school. For this group, FE is “the most important route to achievement”, the report concludes.

In addition, the research identified 308,000 individuals – 16 per cent of the overall cohort – who achieved level 3 qualifications within the FE sector en route to HE, highlighting the role played by the sector in helping young people progress to higher study.

“It is not an exaggeration to suggest that FE’s ability to get many of these individuals into university, in terms of productivity, is transformational,” Professor Urwin said. “We would argue that further cuts to FE funding may have the largest negative impacts on productivity than proposed cuts in any other area of spending.”

This is an edited version of an article in the 13 November edition of TES. Subscribers can view the full version of this story here

Read the full coverage of Professor Urwin's research in this week's TES magazine, available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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