Labour predicts four-in-ten colleges under threat from Conservative spending plans

Labour predicts four-in-ten colleges under threat from Conservative spending plans

Four-in-ten sixth form colleges and GFE colleges could close under Conservative spending plans, Labour said new House of Commons Library research showed.

It revealed the budget for FE colleges could fall by at least £1.6bn under Government spending plans — the equivalent of four-in-ten FE colleges, it was claimed.

Labour’s education team arrived at the figures, a party spokesperson said, after working with the House of Commons Library to predict how Department for Education savings of 25 per cent and 40 per cent, as requested by Chancellor George Osborne, might be realised within unprotected budgets.

Shadow Education Secretary Lucy Powell (pictured above) said: “Before the last election, Labour committed to protecting the whole education budget from the early years to 19, because we value the entire journey of a child through education, including early years and post-16. Under the Tories, these areas face cuts, putting four-in-ten colleges under threat of closure.

“This country’s future success depends upon making sure every young person has the opportunities they need to fulfil their potential. At the moment, the Government’s narrow and backward-looking plan for education is simply not up to that task.”

David Batten, principal at Barrow-in-Furness Sixth Form College, said: “We have made many efficiency savings already; we have restructured management, increased workloads, cut non-pays costs, especially energy and have had to say goodbye to many good colleagues but we are getting to the point where the funding available for sixth form students, which is less than that available for a school pupil and far less than that for a university undergraduate, is simply not enough to offer a good education to students and to keep a small sixth form college running.”

A source close to Education Secretary Nicky Morgan dismissed the figures as “back of the fag packet nonsense” and “scare-mongering”.

It nevertheless comes amid the government’s programme of post-16 education area reviews. They have so far been announced for 83 general FE colleges and sixth form colleges in the West Yorkshire, Tees Valley, Sussex Coast, Solent, Birmingham and Solihull, Greater Manchester, and Sheffield city areas. The government has said the “need” to move towards “fewer, often larger, more resilient and efficient providers,” underlies the area reviews.

Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “Investing in the high-quality education and training provided by sixth form and FE colleges is essential to help government tackle the skills challenges faced by this country and to promote social mobility.

“College budgets have been decimated in the last five years and the sector, as innovative and flexible as it is, simply cannot take more cuts.”

He added: “As the Spending Review approaches we would strongly urge the government to fund the education of our 16 to 18-year-olds at the same level provided for the education of 14 to 16-year-olds and ensure that adult skills training does not become a thing of the past.”

James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges’ Association said: “This is a deeply worrying report and confirms our fears that some sixth form colleges could be wiped from the educational map after the spending review.

“Funding for 16-19 year olds – already significantly lower than for younger students – has been cut three times since 2011, and it seems certain that further reductions will be made next year.”

When asked why Labour was sharing its analysis with the media for publication today, a party spokesperson said: “Because that’s the day we’ve decided to put it out.”

A government spokesperson said: “We have protected the schools budget and ended the unfair difference between post-16 schools and colleges by funding them per student, rather than discriminating between qualifications.

“We have provided sufficient funds for every full-time student to do a full timetable of courses regardless of institution.”

He added that the base rate of funding for 16 to 19-year-olds in the academic year 2015/16 would continue at the same level as in the academic year 2014/15: £4,000 for full-time 16 and 17-year-olds and £3,300 for full-time 18-year-olds.