Sixth forms will close without more cash, heads warn chancellor

An extra £244 million a year is needed, according to a coalition of associations representing schools, colleges, students and governors

Jonathan Owen

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Headteachers, governors and students across England are calling on the chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond to address years of “chronic underinvestment in sixth form education” in the autumn Budget.

In a letter sent to the chancellor, released today, seven organisations warn: “Without further investment, there will be further cuts to courses (particularly Stem and languages), class sizes will continue to increase, and school sixth forms in rural areas will simply disappear.”

The coalition of teaching unions and school and college associations says that £244 million a year in extra funding is needed.

The Association of School and College Leaders, Association of Colleges, Freedom and Autonomy for Schools National Association (Fasna), and Grammar School Heads’ Association (GSHA), are among those to have signed the letter. Other signatories include the National Governance Association, the NUS students' union, and the Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA).

The letter, which was sent to Mr Hammond last week, says: “The national funding rate for 16- and 17-year-olds has been fixed at £4,000 per student since 2013 and has not been adjusted to account for inflationary pressures or cost increases. As a result, there is a wide and ever-growing gap between the funding made available to educate sixth formers and the actual cost of delivering a high-quality curriculum.”

It states: “We urge you to support an increase of £200 to the national funding rate in the forthcoming Budget. We estimate this would cost £244 million per year to implement.”

Funding drops by 21 per cent when a young person reaches the age of 16, which the organisation says reduces the number of hours of teaching and support that students can benefit from.

Sixth formers in England are now only funded to receive half the tuition time that sixth formers in other leading economies receive, according to the letter.

It warns that providing sufficient funding is “vital for social mobility” with a disproportionate number of privately educated A-level students going to the “most selective universities” compared to students from the state sector.

It adds: “Funding cuts and cost increases mean that state schools and colleges have found it increasingly difficult to provide the range of non-qualification activities that are essential to raising students’ aspirations, increasing their confidence and providing social capital.”

The letter says: “Without further investment, there will be further cuts to courses (particularly Stem and languages), class sizes will continue to increase, and school sixth forms in rural areas will simply disappear.”

It concludes: “The chronic underinvestment in sixth-form education is bad for students, bad for our international competitiveness and bad for social mobility. To ensure that schools and colleges can continue to transform the lives of young people we ask that you prioritise this modest increase to the national funding rate in November’s Budget.”

Commenting on the demands, Geoff Barton, ASCL general secretary, said: “The investment we are calling for is very small in terms of national spending. But it will make a huge difference to sixth forms, colleges and students.”

Jim Skinner, GSHA chief executive, said: “The increase we are requesting is modest, but is essential if the needs of our students and the country are to be met.”

The increase being sought from the Treasury is “affordable” and will “help to ensure that every sixth form student in England receives the sort of high quality, rounded educational experience they deserve,” according to Bill Watkin, SFCA chief executive.

In a statement, a Department for Education spokesperson said: "Every young person should have access to an excellent education and we have protected the base rate of funding for all 16-19 students until 2020 to ensure that happens. We have also announced additional investment in technical education for this age group, rising to over an additional half a billion a year once implemented. A further half a billion pounds this year alone is being provided to help post-16 institutions support disadvantaged students and those with low prior attainment."

They added: "Our commitment to further education has contributed to the current record high proportion of 16-18-year olds participating in education or apprenticeships. The government will keep 16 to 19 funding under consideration."

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