Hancock faces MPs’ wrath over DfE cut

Members of the Education Select Committee could probe controversial government plans to cut funding for full-time education for 18-year-olds.

Committee member Pat Glass said she would be calling for an inquiry into proposals to fund 18–year-olds by 17.5 per cent less than 16 and 17-year-olds.

It comes as she and fellow committee members await an impact assessment on the funding rate cut that was promised in mid-December by Education Secretary Michael Gove.

And House of Commons education questions on Monday, January 6, saw Skills Minister Matthew Hancock come in for tough questioning on the matter — and the issue of the impact assessment was raised.

Ms Glass told FE Week: “The 18+ funding was the main topic of conversation, raised by loads of Labour MPs, me included, and the impact assessment was promised but no date given.

“I intend to talk to Graham Stuart [Education Select Committee chair] and suggest the committee does a short inquiry just into cuts to 18+ funding — keeping it short and limited.”

Labour’s Clive Eltham was one of the MPs to question Mr Hancock in the Commons, saying: “The Association of Colleges has said that young people from disadvantaged areas and black and minority ethnic groups will be hardest hit by the cut of 17.5 per cent in the funding for 18-year-olds.

“That is borne out by the assessment that has been carried out by my local college, Greenwich Community College. Why have the government not issued an impact assessment on this proposal, given the severe impact that it will have on disadvantaged groups?”

Mr Hancock told MPs that he had seen the impact assessment and that its findings would provide reassurance about the funding rate cut.

He said: “This is a difficult decision and not one that we will take lightly, but the alternatives are also difficult, and 18-year-olds have already had two years of study post 16 and, indeed, they often study for fewer hours than 16 to 17-year-olds.”

He added: “We will publish the impact assessment very soon.”

But Eddie Playfair, principal of Newham Sixth Form College in East London, told FE Week that he remained sceptical.

He said the proposals as they stand would affect 550 of his learners in 2014/15, creating a financial impact of just over £500,000, around 3 per cent of the college’s £16m budget.

Mr Playfair said: “We are all looking forward to reading the impact assessment because evidence suggests that disadvantaged students will be hit harder.
“In a sense the very fact that it will be third year students who will be hit is worrying because they are more disadvantaged as low achievers.

“The second point Mr Hancock made about these students needing fewer hours is something I just do not understand. They are doing exactly the same courses, sitting in exactly the same classes. They are exactly the same as their peers so this is just a funding cut.”

Meanwhile, in response to a written question from Shadow Junior Education Minister Rushanara Ali about a lack of consultation on the funding rate cut, Mr Hancock said: “We wanted to inform colleges and schools of the decision as soon as possible, to support planning for the 2014/15 academic year.
“It has been standard practice under various governments not to consult on funding rates.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said there was no date for the release of the impact assessment, but said it would be put online after the select committee had seen it.