'You're on your own' once restructuring fund runs out, Nick Boles warns colleges

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No more emergency funding will be made available once the government’s restructuring fund to support the area review process has run out, skills minister Nick Boles has warned.

Speaking at the Education and Training Foundation’s leadership summit today, Mr Boles warned colleges that they should take advantage of the additional government funding being made available to pay for mergers and other structural changes resulting from the area reviews. The government has not confirmed how much money is available, but several senior figures in the sector have told TES that it is expected to amount to more than £500 million.

Speaking at today's event in London, Mr Boles said: “You cannot sit out these area reviews and say ‘Let’s see how the chips fall and continue on roughly as we are, and [we] can always come back later in this Parliament and have another go'... once that fund is used up, you are basically on your own.”

Colleges would still be able to apply for government funds through the adult education budget or the apprenticeship levy, Mr Boles said, but he stressed than no more exceptional funding would be made available to support colleges ending up in a deficit down the line. “The area review process is your opportunity to put yourself in a position not just to survive, but to thrive. The future is not going to have the same level of ad hoc support for those colleges that are not able to stay in surplus as there was in the past,” he added.

The skills minister also told the audience he profoundly disagreed with the views voiced by Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw, who said last week that the FE sector was "in a mess", and that he believed all 16 to 19 education should be done in schools. Mr Boles said he was sure Sir Michael “didn’t really mean” his comments on the further education sector, which were widely criticised. “Not only do I disagree with them, and not only does David Cameron disagree with them, I think Sir Michael disagrees with them.” Mr Boles explained Sir Michael had in the past complained about the relatively small number of 16- to 18-year-olds doing apprenticeships.

The government’s reforms of the further education sector were not purely designed to save money,  Mr Boles added. “It is much more ambitious than that.” The minister also claimed that the area reviews offered an opportunity for the sector to ensure it could benefit from the “dramatically increased money that is coming into apprenticeships”. Earlier today, prime minister David Cameron told MPs that the country now has "better-funded sixth-forms and better-funded FE colleges".

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