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Stop FE 'initiative mania', say sector leaders

Ministers should instead focus on increasing core funding, college and student representatives tell MPs

funding colleges FE vocational apprenticeships post-16 education committee

Ministers should instead focus on increasing core funding, college and student representatives tell MPs

The government should stop the “initiative mania” around further education and instead focus on increasing the basic funding rates for the college sector, according to sector leaders.

MPs on the House of Commons Education Select Committee were this morning told that the introduction of new initiatives and funding streams should be halted if they failed to address the need for more core funding in FE.

Alison Birkinshaw, principal of York College and former president of the Association of Colleges, said new funding was often “channeled into the 'revolutionary' aspects of FE, but core funding is at an all-time low”. It was this core funding that had to be increased urgently, she added.

She cited the example of T levels, due to be introduced from 2020, which would initially be taken only by a minority of students.

"I would be surprised if it was as much as 10 per cent [of students] to start with," said Ms Birkinshaw, whose college will be piloting the new qualifications. Most students would therefore not be affected by their introduction, she explained. 

'Policy by press release'

James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA), said too much of policymaking  “starts with the press release and works backwards”, and this “policy by press release” approach was damaging to the sector. “We just need a higher level of funding”, he stressed.

Mr Kewin and Ms Birkinshaw also called for support in funding better pay for FE lecturers. College lecturers earn around £7,000 less than their colleagues in schools per year, and Ms Birkinshaw said her staff were frequently approached with more lucrative offers from universities and schools. “They cannot afford to stay in FE,” said the college principal. “The big difficulty we have is paying our staff.”

Mr Kewin said the fact colleges would not receive funding for a pay deal similar to that tabled for schools was particularly unfair, considering that the 30 or so members of the SFCA who had chosen to academise would receive the funding promised to schools, while the 70 others would not.

'Deeply unfair' resits

The sector leaders also called for an overhaul of the GCSE resit policy – which Ms Birkinshaw called “deeply unfair”, particularly as a floating pass mark meant students who might have passed last year still failed this year – and for an increase in capital funding for FE. In addition, the impending increase in pension contribution should be considered when assessing the financial needs of colleges, Ms Birkinshaw said.

NUS vice principal for FE Emily Chapman said the lack of sufficient funding for student support and the overall underfunding of the FE sector meant “colleges are having to go to charities for anything outside the classroom”, adding: “And if we are doing that, we really have a very big problem."

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