Education secretary Justine Greening is living in an “alternative reality” over funding for FE colleges, according to a Labour MP.
James Frith, the MP for Bury North, was addressing Ms Greening at the House of Commons Education Select Committee hearing in Parliament today – presided over by the new committee chair, former skills minister Robert Halfon. Mr Frith said that almost £2 million in funding had been cut from his two local FE colleges – £1.3 million from Bury College, and £600,000 from Holy Cross College – during the last three years, while funding remained comparably higher in secondary schools and higher education.
“In Bury, Bury College and Holy Cross [College] in the last three years have lost £2 million in funding," Mr Frith said. "Can you explain the logic behind the difference for post-16 education compared to [secondary schools], which is about 21 per cent? The difference is 48 per cent when comparing FE to HE – and there’s a massive 70 per cent when you compare Holy Cross and Bury College and colleges like them with the independent [school] sector on funding."
Ms Greening responded by saying she did not agree with Mr Frith’s points, at which Mr Frith responded by asking Ms Greening if she was living in an “alternative reality”.
“Two million [pounds]: £1.3 million from Bury College, which is the apprenticeship provider college of choice, [and] £600,000 from Holy Cross, which is a more academic college, in three years. So perhaps that’s your alternative facts or alternative reality, [but] that’s the reality that colleges and students in Bury are faced with, and it’s inconsistent with how you apply funding to the sectors either side of post-16.”
Ms Greening, responded by saying that "significantly more" funding had been allocated to FE in chancellor Philip Hammond's Spring Budget, while the newly announced Strategic College Improvement Fund and National Leaders of Further Education scheme would also help to support struggling institutions.
“At the budget earlier this year we actually announced significantly more investment going into further education – reforms that would increase the hours of learning by over 50 per cent for young people,” Ms Greening said.
She added: “I agree that there does need to be more investment going in and that’s what we’ve announced, but alongside that, actually, the other key thing I think is going to make a big difference is broader reform in relation to technical education, T levels [and] the need for employers to step up to the plate and give us work placements."
'There needs to be more investment in FE'
Earlier in the meeting, Mr Halfon asked Ms Greening whether a review into a £60 million pot of funding to incentivise employers to hire apprenticeships from disadvantaged backgrounds had taken place, and whether the money had been spent.
“Well that’s a good question, Robert," Ms Greening said. "I think that work is underway, I’m very happy to update you once we’ve completed it. As you know the challenge is to make sure that apprenticeships, like every other element of our education system, especially once you talk about post-16, are not only high quality but are accessible to all of our young people.”