Department for Education shuns its own funding consultation

The government is ignoring concerns from colleges, parents and learners about plans to fund education providers on a “per student” basis.

The reforms will affect all provision for 16 to 19-year-olds and replace the current funding system, which pays for the enrolment and achievement of qualifications individually.

However, a Department for Education (DfE) public consultation found that almost 80 per cent of respondents were opposed to the idea of a single rate for all full-time learners.

“We said that it was too simplistic. In the same way that there are programme cost weightings, there should be bands according to programme size,” David Harbourne, director of policy and research at the Edge Foundation, said.

Respondents to the consultation, which included general FE colleges, sixth-form colleges and parents, warned that the single funding rate could encourage providers to deliver cheaper courses.

They also said additional costs and student requirements, as well as the variety in course lengths, meant the single rate wasn’t flexible enough.

The reforms, which will also affect students up to the age of 24 with a learning disability or education, health and care plan, will be introduced in the 2013/14 academic year.

The change is designed to stop providers from enrolling learners on a large number of small or easy qualifications.

A DfE spokesperson said: “At the moment, as Professor Alison Wolf [author of the 14-19 review] highlighted, some 350,000 16 to 19-year-olds are on courses that do not benefit them.  We could not let a system that allowed this to continue.”

The single funding rate will pay for about 600 guided learning hours, regardless of what institution or qualification a student is enrolled on.

The change could affect the international baccalaureate, which is currently funded at 675 guided learning hours, as well as the larger programmes offered by University Technical Colleges.

Sandra Morton, chair of the International Baccalaureate Schools and Colleges Association,  said: “To deliver this programme in 600 hours is at best unrealistic and at worst will be unworkable for some institutions.

“The international baccalaureate has already suffered from the reduction in Entitlement Funding from 114 to 30 guided learning hours.

“We have absorbed this reduction but further reductions will not only impact on the centres for international baccalaureate, but will hit hard schools and colleges”

The government promised to make “sufficient funding” available for at least three academic years to protect providers.

The Association of Colleges (AoC) welcomed the transitional protection, but said they were wary of “over-simplification” in the reforms.

“At a time when the 16-18 education budget is being cut, it is right to introduce these sorts of changes in stages,” Julian Gravatt, assistant chief executive of the AoC, said.