Students are bieng "short-changed" and are in danger of being ill-prepared for employment if funding challenges aren’t addressed, according to college leaders across England.
Principals and chairs from 140 colleges across England have written to the prime minister to call for extra funding to support 16- to 19-year-old students.
The letter states: “Our students are now in danger of studying an impoverished curriculum, which has already reduced in breadth and choice, and cannot prepare our young people to take their place in employment and compete in a global economy.”
In England, the base funding level for 16- to 18-year-olds is £4,000 per year, dropping to £3,300 at 19. According to the Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA), this covers 600 teaching hours per year – significantly less than countries such as Norway (980 hours) and the Netherlands (1,000 hours).
Association of Colleges (AoC) president Alison Birkinshaw, also principal of York College, said: “Our young people are being short-changed compared with their counterparts in other countries and compared with previous generations. The hours of teaching and support, the choice they have and the enrichment they are offered have all reduced as funding cuts have bitten. This cannot continue if we are to secure the future of our nation.”
In August, a survey of college leaders carried out by the AoC in partnership with Tes found that almost two-thirds of colleges offering A levels had reduced the number of subjects available to students.
AoC chief executive David Hughes welcomed moves to increase the number of teaching hours for students taking T levels, but said this would only benefit around a quarter of sixth-form students. “This is not just a funding issue, it’s a moral issue and should deeply concern every one of us," he added. "How can we expect our young people, whether at school or college, to get the support and education they need to progress in their chosen path without the right investment? "
College leaders are asking for an immediate £200 uplift to the base funding rate per student. This will help to maintain the breadth of provision and help attracted and retain teachers and trainers.
The AoC is working with other organisations, including the SFCA, the Association of School and College Leaders and the NUS students’ union to highlight the issue ahead of the autumn budget.
A spokesperson from the Department for Education said: “Every young person should have access to an excellent education and even though public finances remain difficult, we have protected the base rate of funding for all post-16 students until 2020 to ensure that happens. We have also announced additional investment in technical education for 16- to 19-year olds, rising to an additional £500 million a year. On top of this, we are providing more than half a billion pounds this year alone to help post-16 institutions support disadvantaged students and those with low prior attainment.
“Our support towards 16-19 education has contributed to the current record high proportion of 16- to 18-year olds participating in education or apprenticeships. Of course, the government will keep 16-19 funding under consideration.”