A “painful” funding cut to 18-year-olds’ full-time education that drew cross-FE sector opposition could be delayed.
Education Secretary Michael Gove told MPs he was willing to “have a look” at pushing the 17.5 per cent cut, due to be introduced the next academic year to save £150m, back until September 2015.
The cut was announced by the Education Funding Agency, which said 16 and 17-year-olds’ education funding would not be hit, just over a week ago.
The current, unweighted, funding rate for 16, 17 and 18-year-olds is £4,000. The new rate for 16 and 17-year-olds is expected to be announced in March, but at the current rate — and with the cut applied — 18-year-olds would be funded at £3,300.
The announcement drew strong criticism from the Association of Colleges (AoC), the 157 Group, the National Union of Students, the Sixth Form Colleges Association, the Association of School and College Leaders and the University and College Union.
And research commissioned by the AoC showed students from disadvantaged areas and black, minority and ethnic groups would be worst hit.
Martin Doel, AoC chief executive, said: “Our initial analysis is clear that, with more 18-year-olds studying in colleges than in schools, colleges will bear the brunt of this cut to the tune of approximately £100m.
“Sixth form colleges, some of the best-performing education institutions in England, could be worst affected and London colleges may be disproportionally hit as 25 per cent of their full-time students are 18.”
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.
But while Mr Gove told members of the Education Select Committee this morning that the cut was “painful”, he agreed to review the move for colleges after hearing from committee chair Graham Stuart.
Mr Stuart said the cut would hit colleges, whose funding is lagged, hard. He asked Mr Gove to consider delaying the cut because colleges would be paid for this year’s intake — which had been enrolled without the knowledge of the impending funding cut — at next year’s lower level.
Mr Gove said: “Let me have a look at that. It’s a very fair-minded and generous suggestion.”
The Education Secretary had earlier told committee members that an impact assessment on the cut had been produced would be shared with them.
He said: “It is a painful cut forced on us by, A, difficult economic circumstances and, B, the fact that there are some parts of the education budget that are protected and some parts that are not.
“We conducted an impact assessment which we can share with the committee. In short, of all the ways we looked at to reduce expenditure in the 16 to 18 area, this is the one we felt was the least worst. But I won’t say that it’s a good thing to reduce spending in this area. It’s a difficult decision.”
The agency said the Spending Review for 2015-16 meant that savings were required from the 16 to 19 participation budget that year.
It had said the cut would affect less than a fifth of post-16 FE students and would come into force for 2014/15, by which time, it argued, most 18-year-olds would not need “as much non-qualification provision within their study programmes” because they will have already benefited from two years of post-16 education.
But it is estimated that the move would affect 100,000 18-year-olds in colleges, plus those in school sixth forms and studying foundation course in universities.
Lynne Sedgmore, executive director of the 157 Group, said: “With youth unemployment a major policy priority, it seems odd that the very groups of young people most likely to become disillusioned by education and therefore possibly Neet [not in education, employment or training] should be targeted in this way.”