With the issue of 16 to 19 funding dropping to critical levels, sector leaders have written to Chancellor George Osborne and Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, as reported on feweek.co.uk. Malcolm Trobe explains what why he wants government to reconsider its view on funding education for the age group.

Education for 16 to 19-year-olds is in danger of becoming a Cinderella service. It covers some of the most important years in the lives of young people, but it is the most poorly-funded part of the system.

The base rate of funding for each student is £4,000 per year. This is less than pre-16 education, where the average base rate is about £4,700, and higher education where students are generally charged £9,000.

FE colleges have been struggling along for years on around this £4,000 rate without any inflationary increases. School sixth forms and sixth form colleges were better funded, but no longer. Over the past five years their funding has been cut to the same level.

And over the next five years, the situation is set to become much worse.

Schools and colleges face significant rises in costs because of increases to employers’ National Insurance contributions, pensions, staff wages and general inflation. This is bad enough for pre-16 education, but for the 16 to 19 sector it is even more disastrous because funding is already so low.

Also worryingly, the 16 to 19 sector is unprotected in terms of government spending, raising the fear it may suffer further cuts.

This background explains why the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) and six other organisations joined together to send letters to Education Secretary Nicky Morgan and Chancellor George Osborne [see feweek.co.uk for more]. Together, the signatories represent a huge range of schools and colleges, demonstrating the strength of feeling over this issue.

In addition to ASCL, they are the Association of Colleges, the Principals’ Professional Council, the Sixth Form Colleges’ Association, the Independent Academies Association, the Grammar School Heads Association, and the Freedom and Autonomy for Schools National Association.

We recognise the financial situation is difficult, but we are asking that, at the very least, the government gives 16 to 19 institutions enough money to meet the additional costs they face. If this does not happen they will be hit with real-terms cuts of about 5 per cent over the next 12 to 18 months.

FE colleges have been struggling along for years on around this £4,000 rate without any inflationary increases

The consequences of inadequate funding are already being felt and will become more severe if not addressed. One of these is that it makes it difficult for schools and colleges to provide the full range of A-levels, AS-levels, and other courses, to meet the needs of students. This is particularly so in smaller sixth forms which cannot sustain an appropriate breadth of options on such low funding levels.

The result is that fewer students will apply, and the sixth form is trapped in a downward spiral, probably ending with its closure.

Another consequence is that it becomes increasingly difficult for schools and colleges to provide courses in subjects which attract relatively low numbers of students.

As these include modern foreign languages and further maths, this will undermine areas which are important to the wider economy.

The funding crisis also damages the ability of schools and colleges to offer students additional curriculum opportunities.

Everybody recognises the importance of equipping young people with life skills and a rounded educational experience through things like team-building activities, enterprise days, sports clubs, music and other creative arts-based opportunities.

However, the funding situation makes it is increasingly difficult for many schools and colleges to provide these opportunities. This places students in the state sector at a significant disadvantage to their peers in independent schools where these sort of activities are energetically promoted.

Indeed, if the funding crisis results in fewer of these activities and fewer course options for state students it will have a damaging effect on social mobility.

Austerity inevitably means making tough decisions. However, it is not good economics to fail to invest in the future, and this is precisely what is currently happening in 16 to 19 education. The country’s prosperity relies upon ensuring we have a workforce with the training and life skills for the 21st Century. And we have a responsibility to young people to give them that future.