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Skills minister refuses to back down on funding cuts for 18-year-olds

UK skills minister Matthew Hancock (pictured) has told TES that he will not reconsider a funding cut for 18-year-olds in full-time education, despite an angry backlash from the FE sector.

A number of bodies – including the Association of Colleges and the 157 Group of colleges – have written to the minister urging him to reverse the 17.5 per cent cut, which is due to be introduced in September.

An impact assessment by the Department for Education (DfE) confirmed fears that the FE sector, and colleges in particular, would take the biggest hit, with the impact on colleges more than seven times greater than the impact on school sixth forms.

But, speaking exclusively to TES, Mr Hancock insisted that the cut would go ahead. “Budgets are tight [and] this is the sort of cut I wouldn’t have liked to make,” he said.

“The impact assessment is very clear that those who study for a third year at the age of 18 are no more disadvantaged on average than 16- to 18-year-olds as a whole.

“The most disadvantaged who have had the worst time of it sadly tend to drop out before the age of 18. Tackling that is a huge issue. 

“The question is, is it better to take money out of all 16-19 education or just for those who have already had two years of education, who aren’t more disadvantaged and for whom we are making it [education] a legal requirement?” 

The decision will also have a greater impact on certain regions of the country and groups of students.
According to the DfE’s own assessment, London, the South East and the North West have the highest proportion of 18-year-old learners.

It will also disproportionately affect students from black, minority and ethnic backgrounds, as this group has a higher proportion of 18-year-old learners.

Lynne Sedgmore, executive director of the 157 Group, said that the policy had been “ill thought-through".

“At a time when we should be promoting vocational routes to give our young people the skills they will need to contribute to economic growth, this disparity seems ill-advised,” she said.

“It risks undermining the real progress that has recently been made in evening out the playing field between different providers of post-16 education. We remain especially concerned that the cut might apply to students who are part-way through a course they have begun legitimately, believing that they would be fully funded until the end.

“Colleges will have to work hard to mitigate this unfair, and possibly unintended, consequence."

Mr Hancock acknowledged that colleges that moved to per-pupil funding would be hit hardest by the change, but said that his officials would “look closely” at the situation and see what could be done to mitigate any problems.

But he said: “I fully expect colleges to manage the budgets across the whole age range they serve.

“I’m not pretending this is an easy decision to make."

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