Funding cuts force sixth form colleges to axe staff and courses, says report

Darren Evans

Sixth form colleges in England have been forced to cut courses, axe staff and drop extra-curricular activities as a result of funding cuts, a new report claims.

The Sixth Form Colleges’ Association’s annual funding impact survey, published today, shows that the high performance of sixth form colleges is under serious threat as a result of government cuts.

The report, based on a survey of the association’s members, shows 68 per cent of colleges have had to drop courses as a result, a 15 percentage point increase on last year.

More than a third (38 per cent) have been forced to drop modern foreign language courses and more than a fifth (22 per cent) have cut Stem subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths).

Almost all of the colleges surveyed (95 per cent) have reduced their staffing levels, and 69 per cent are now teaching students in larger class sizes.

Sport, music and educational visits have also been reduced, with 71 per cent  being forced to reduce or remove the extra-curricular activities available to students.

A separate report, also published today, reveals academies can spend almost £1,600 a year more per sixth form student than sixth form colleges because of different funding rules.

Government funding for VAT, insurance and capital costs and the ability to cross-subsidise from 11-16 funding leaves academy sixth-formers £1,598 a year better off than those in sixth form colleges, according to the report from London Economics.

The report shows that there has been a 19 per cent increase in the number of academy sixth forms since 2004, while the number of sixth form colleges has declined by 10 per cent. 

Last month David Igoe, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, told TES sixth-form colleges in England were being left to “wither on the vine” by the government and could soon be “consigned to history” because of the overwhelming financial pressures.

Some 32 sixth-form colleges have been forced to close in the past 20 years, most of which were small institutions that folded under financial pressure. Only three new colleges have opened in the same period.

Mr Igoe told TES that about 30 of England’s 93 remaining sixth-form colleges could find themselves with budget deficits within the next two years.

This is despite the fact that that students in sixth form colleges get better exam results, and are more likely to progress to university, than their peers in academy or school sixth forms.

Dr Gavan Conlon from London Economics, said: “This is a remarkable achievement given the funding inequalities faced by the sector, and the number of students enrolled in sixth form colleges from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

Commenting on today’s reports, James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges’ Association said a cash injection was required to make sure students continue to receive a high quality education.

“We urge the government to introduce a VAT rebate for sixth form colleges to bring them in line with academy and school sixth forms,” he said.

“This would provide the average sixth form college with an additional £335,000 per year to invest in the front line education of students.”

A Department for Education spokesman said the government had ended the historic unfair funding difference between post-16 schools and colleges by putting both on the same rate.

"We have also implemented the recommendations made by Professor Alison Wolf that funding should be on a fair per student basis, not per qualification - this ensures that young people are studying high-quality qualifications that will help them get on in life,” the spokesman added.

"At the same time, we have protected funding until the end of the academic year in 2016 so all colleges and schools with sixth forms can continue to plan ahead.

"Colleges are treated differently to schools when it comes to VAT because of their legal status."

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Darren Evans

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