Shadow Skills Minister Gordon Marsden hits out over DfE climbdown on English and maths funding rule
– Schools, colleges and independent learning providers fail to enrol learners on English and maths
– 35,000 16 to 19-year-olds without pass didn’t go back to studying the subjects, representing loss of up to £150m to FE
– New exemption from ‘condition of funding’ granted to some and others keep the cash
Newly-appointed Shadow Skills Minister Gordon Marsden has called for an urgent review after the Department for Education (DfE) watered down a key 16 to 18 English and maths funding rule.
Mr Marsden, who was confirmed in the post on Friday (September 18) and previously served in the role under former Labour leader Ed Miliband for three years, hit out after the DfE said it would not fully apply the condition of funding in relation to last academic year.
The rule states that any 16-18 student that does not have a grade C in English and maths and fails to enrol in the subjects would be removed in full from the 2016/17 funding allocation.
However, the Education Funding Agency (EFA) confirmed this week that the penalty would be halved. And even then it will now only apply to providers where more than 5 per cent of relevant students (by value) did not comply with the funding condition.
The announcement came in light of data showing that 3 per cent of 16 to 19-year-olds without at least a grade C in GCSE English and maths attending an FE institution did not continue their study of the subjects.
The DfE did not specify how many learners this equated to but according to FE Week research, around 35,000 learners did not meet the condition, representing a potential loss of earning to the sector of up to £150m.
“This particular process and set of requirements has clearly caused problems for providers across the sector,” Mr Marsden told FE Week.
“The belated EFA recognition of this by partially relaxing them may have staved off some of the immediate difficulties.
“But Ministers must urgently now ensure there is a process that’s more simple and transparent for providers while delivering the strong strategy for English and maths which learners need.”
The condition of funding emerged from Professor Alison Wolf’s 2011 review of vocational education in which she recommended that 16 to 18-year-olds who do not have at least C grade for English and maths should keep studying the subjects.
The recommendation was brought in as part of her study programmes package for 2013/14, and made a condition of funding the following year.
Stewart Segal, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said: “Some programmes have to be focused on work readiness and providers need the flexibility to deliver the right programme.
“Providers have responded to this new requirement so we hope those specific circumstances will be taken into account in any funding adjustment.”
David Corke, director of education and skills policy for the Association of Colleges, said: “This funding condition has been a major challenge for colleges as it would mean a financial penalty if 100 per cent of students do not take GCSE English and maths.”
James Kewin, Sixth Form Colleges’ Association deputy chief executive, said: “We welcome this move, but believe our members have stepped up to the plate in terms of condition of funding.”
A DfE spokesperson said 16-19 English and maths learners had gone from 53 per cent in 2012-13 to 97 per cent in June 2015, with the rule having been introduced a year ago.
“Ministers have decided not to impose the full planned funding reductions from the 2014/15 academic year.”
EFA gets a grade D
The English and maths condition of funding was introduced a year after Study Programmes began.
So school sixth forms, colleges and independent learning providers had time to prepare.
Despite this, we estimate in 2014/15 there were 35,000 learners worth £150m that should have been studying English and/or maths, and weren’t.
The EFA’s softening of the condition represents an inevitable consequence of so many providers failing to implement the rule.
And it is a condition which only gets tougher, as providers have to stick with the GCSE option this year if learners have a grade D.
This is a failure on the part of the EFA to enforce its own policy, as well a minority of providers that have let their learners down.
More broadly, the climbdown is a blow to fairness and the principle of providers being treated equally.
It also adds yet more complexity to the funding allocations process.
For these reasons the EFA gets a policy implementation grade D, making a retake inevitable.
FE Week editor