It’s time for the government to support sixth-form students, and review the "chronic underinvestment" in 16-19 education, according to Nic Dakin.
Mr Dakin, Labour MP for Scunthorpe, said in a debate in Parliament’s Westminster Hall today that a lack of funding in school sixth-forms and sixth-form colleges was "letting students down", and was “bad for students, bad for our international competitiveness and bad for social mobility”.
"Bluntly, the government has provided no evidence to justify reducing education funding by 21 per cent at age 16," Mr Dakin said. "The chronic underinvestment in academic sixth-form education is bad for students, bad for our international comeptiitveness, and bad for social mobility. It’s the students that matter. We are at real risk of letting them down."
He added: "It’s time for all of us, including the government, to support our sixth-formers and give them a fair deal. The minister, in her response, can make a good start by saying she is determined to champion high-quality general sixth-form education as well as T levels and apprenticeships. [Anne Milton] could also commit to ensuring the £200 uplift [per student, per year] and the fundamental review are carefully and properly looked at."
Mr Dakin lent his support to the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), Association of Colleges (AoC) and Sixth Form College Association's (SFCA) "excellent" Support our Sixth-Formers campaign. He asked the government to respond "positively" to the campaign's two central recommendations: "To introduce an immediate £200 uplift in funding to improve the support offered to sixth-form students, and to conduct a review of sixth-form funding to ensure it is linked to the realistic costs of delivering a rounded, high-quality curriculum."
'I know funding is difficult'
In response, skills minister Ms Milton said: “Technical education must be a strong alternative to traditional academic routes. And on the academic side, I know funding is difficult, and I have noted the recommendations in the document in support of our sixth-form colleges. But I was also pleased to see the results in the reformed A levels last month, which continue to maintain high standards and improve students' readiness for the demands of higher education.”
She added: “In context of the wider pressures on finances, I can’t spell out political registry, but, you know, a strong economy is important and we have had some difficult decisions to make. Our commitment to maintain the 16-19 base rates for all types of providers at current levels until 2020 is important. We have done this. However, the government will keep funding under consideration, and my job will be to be, exactly as I said at the beginning of my remarks, a champion for this sector."
David Hughes, chief executive of the AoC, said: “Our young people are in danger of getting 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. That cannot be right.
“This is not just a funding issue, it’s a moral issue, and should deeply concern every one of us," he added. "Young people deserve the right investment to support their ambitions and abilities. The government has already made a welcome funding commitment to increase the teaching hours for the incoming T levels, but this will only cover around 25 per cent of 16- to 19-year-olds. The next step must be to address the unfairness for the majority of young students.”
And James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the SFCA, said he was delighted with the number of MPs attending the debate and cross-party support for the cause. “I do think the minister is sympathetic to the cause and she is an ally to the sector. We are looking forward to working more closely with her,” he added.