Providers stand to have a huge hole blown in their finances after the government announced it would slash the funding rate for full-time 18-year-old learners by 17.5 per cent in 2014/15.
The sudden announcement by the government was branded “extraordinary” and a “real danger” by House of Commons Education Select Committee member Nic Dakin. It was also condemned by FE groups such as the Association of Colleges (AoC), the 157 Group, the National Union of Students, the Sixth Form Colleges Association and the Association of School and College Leaders.
A letter from the Education Funding Agency said the decision had been made as those who were 18 years old at the start of the academic year “will already have benefited from two years of post-16 education and will not therefore need as much non-qualification provision within their study programmes as 16 and 17-year-olds.”
It continued: “Fewer than one in five of 16 to 18-year-olds funded by the EFA are aged 18 at the start of the academic year.”
However, colleges have reacted angrily, saying the move was tantamount to penalising the most vulnerable learners as those still in education at 18 are likely to have been let down by the system in the past.
Colleges are struggling to calculate the financial impact this will have as the new rate for 16 and 17-year-olds will not be announced until March. But, using rough estimates, Middlesbrough College, Bedford College and Milton Keynes College said they could be forced to offer the same amount of provision for around half a million pounds less, while Uxbridge College could lose up to £800,000.
Ian Pryce, principal of Bedford College, said: “There are two groups that you couldn’t blame for the fact that somebody is behind at 18.
“One of those is the institution that took them on after they hadn’t done well at school and the second is the student themselves that have been let down and they’re the two parties this will penalise.”
He also pointed out that the rate cut would affect other students as it would be “impossible” to reduce provision solely for 18-year-old students as they would be in classes alongside their younger counterparts.
“The cohort this affects are definitely, operationally, and organisationally are part and parcel of our post-16 offer so in effect it is a just a funding cut,” he said. He also questioned why the sector had not been told of the coming rate cut at the AoC conference in November.
Mr Dakin, who is trying to table an emergency debate on the subject in the House of Commons, said: “It’s quite extraordinary… it’s just come out of the blue.”
He dismissed the agency’s justification as “a clever intellectual reason that has no relationship with what’s happening in the real world”.
“The real danger is that it will change behaviour and the youngsters colleges get less funding for may also be the ones that need the most support,” he said.
“It’s an extremely bad time to be making life harder for 18-year-olds, what we should be doing is putting ladders in place for them to success not putting barriers in their way.”
Despite the backlash against the cut, Labour declined to condemn the move. Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt said: “We are going to monitor the situation, but we don’t think it is appropriate to make statetements on individual cuts at this stage.”
Editorial : Parity of funding ditched
The rate cut to full-time 18-year-old students is targeted at the older young learner and applies to both school sixth forms and the FE sector.
But, as any curriculum planner will tell you — and I was one for nearly 10 years — it will in reality impact on the resources for all 16 to 18-year-olds and in the main those at large vocational FE colleges.
Because providers won’t run separate or different courses for 18-year-olds, and a rate cut, all other things being equal, means doing the same with less funding.
And budgets for FE colleges, as opposed to school sixth forms, will feel the hit as they typically take the second chance learners as well as run three-year vocational courses, such as in construction, that start when the learner is aged 16.
Either the government knows the rate cut will in reality also impact on the 16 and 17-year-olds and mainly at FE colleges, and are not saying it, or it has not done its homework.
And Labour’s official response has been to ‘monitor the situation’, which, putting it politely, is apathetic at best.
The new Shadow Education Secretary, Tristram Hunt, should be straight onto his opposite number in power, Michael Gove, demanding to see the impact assessment.
This would prove this rate cut ends any hope of parity of funding between school sixth forms and FE colleges.
A real loss for fairness and as well as our youth.
Nick Linford, editor