Commissioner in FE funding support call

The government should look at shifting schools funding to colleges as they struggle to cope with more learners re-sitting GCSE maths and English, according to FE Commissioner Dr David Collins.

Dr Collins, who took up post in November last year, received a round of applause for his comments at the Association of Colleges (AoC) annual conference in Birmingham on Tuesday (November 18).

He spoke out in response to changes introduced by the government from September that mean learners who didn’t reach C grade maths and English GCSEs at school must carry on studying the subjects in FE.

Dr Collins said: “If you want success at GCSEs from colleges, two things have to happen — you could actually move money from schools to colleges to support them.

“The second thing is you probably need a different sort of GCSE for people coming to college, something like GCSE business maths or business English is going to be much more useful to both the individual and the employer.”

His comments came just days after publication of his first annual report, in which he presented a worrying financial outlook for the sector, warning colleges struggling to make ends meet against abandoning expensive subjects such as science and engineering.

“It would be foolish to pretend that the FE sector does not have a difficult time ahead,” Dr Collins wrote in his report.

“Reductions in public spending will necessarily continue for the foreseeable future and the demands for highly skilled individuals to service a growing economy will increase.

“When resources are short it is all the more important that colleges and institutions work together to ensure that those resources are best used for the benefit of learners and employers.

“This will mean some consolidation and indeed some specialisation, as well as neighbouring colleges, institutions and providers considering joint plans for their respective communities.

“There is a danger that without such a consideration the more expensive areas of the curriculum (for example, science and engineering) will disappear from areas where they are needed in a college’s pursuit of financial stability.”

Martin Doel, AoC chief executive, said: “The commissioner is right to warn of the impact spending cuts are having in narrowing colleges’ curriculum and to raise a concern that more expensive courses, such as engineering, may not be sustainable in the future.”

He also spoke to FE Week after his speech at the conference and issued further warning to colleges in pursuit of alternative revenue streams in addition to teaching “local learners”.

“The focus of colleges should be for the local learners and local employers,” he said.

“That’s their job and they’ve got to get that bit right first, and that means getting the cost of the income right for that.

“Then if they want to go and make money somewhere, that’s fine, as it will support local learners and what happens in their community.

“But many of these ventures are not really undertaken on the basis of careful cost-benefit analysis.”