SFCA to launch campaign calling for huge 16 to 18 funding rate increase

The Sixth Form Colleges Association is preparing to launch a campaign calling for a huge increase in the 16 to 18 base rate, just a week after the Association of Colleges will demand an initially smaller rise in their own campaign.

The Raise the Rate campaign will call for the funding base rate for all 16-18-year-old learners to be increased to £4,760 in the next spending review. If successful, it would mark the first increase in the base rate since 2013-14.

For 16 and 17-year-olds, this is an increase of 14 per cent on the current £4,000 base rate. For 18-year-olds – taking a third year of sixth form – it is a jump of 44 per cent.

The campaign is expected to launch during the week beginning October 22: just before the Budget and a week after AoC’s Colleges Week campaign, which is calling for a five per cent annual increase in the 16 to 19 funding rate for each of the next five years, amounting to around £1,000 in total.

Despite the difference in aims and timescales, the AoC will be supporting the Raise the Rate campaign, which is expected to involve lobbying politicians, alongside other partners including the Association of School and College Leaders. The SFCA is not an official partner of Colleges Week, but has told FE Week it will be supporting it through social media and encouraging its members to write to MPs.

A report published today by London Economics on behalf of the SFCA, found that, in order for sixth form colleges to be able to increase student support services such as mental health, protect subjects at a risk of being dropped such as modern foreign languages and increase non-qualification time, including work experience and extra-curricular activities, a funding increase of at least £760 per learner is needed by 2020/21.

A further £140 per learner will be required if the proposed increase in employer contributions to the teacher pension scheme is not funded by the government, the report found. The contributions are expected to rise from 16.48 per cent to 23.6 per cent next September.

In real terms, funding for 16-19 education in sixth form colleges has declined by 22 per cent since 2010/11, falling from £6,230 per learner to £4,850 in 2016-17.

This reduction of £1,380 per learner has led to reduction in staff, with 15 per cent fewer teachers over the same period, while learner numbers have grown by 6.5 per cent. The combination of the two means the average learner-to-teacher ratio across the sector has risen by 28 per cent, from 18 learners to a teacher to 23.

However, this has not been enough to outweigh the decline in income. While in 2010/11, sixth form colleges had an average surplus of £190 per learner, by 2016-17 they faced an average deficit of £110 per learner.

Last month, a report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies found that FE has been the victim of the sharpest cuts in the education sector over the last 25 years, with school sixth forms facing the lowest funding per learner than at any point since at least 2002-03.

Bill Watkin, chief executive of the SFCA, said: “It is now well understood that sixth form education has experienced deeper funding cuts since 2010 than any other phase of education. But until the publication of today’s report, the impact of cost increases has been less well understood.

“The debate about sixth form funding now needs to move from how much funding has been cut, to how much funding is actually needed to provide the sort of high-quality, internationally competitive education that our young people deserve.”

He added: “We will launch the Raise the Rate campaign later this month in partnership with a range of other school and college associations to help secure a significant increase in the funding rate for sixth form students in next year’s spending review.”

Maike Halterbeck, an associate director at London Economics and primary author of the report said: “The ongoing cuts to sixth form education have caused a significant reduction in the resources available for front-line teaching activity. This has resulted in a narrowing of the curriculum on offer – and a narrowing of the opportunities available to more than 150,000 young people.

“Significant additional financial resources should be provided to properly fund young people’s education and provide them with an internationally competitive sixth form curriculum.”

Anne Milton, the apprenticeships and skills minister, said: “We have protected the base rate of funding for 16-19-year-olds until 2020. However, I am very aware of the funding pressures.

“We will continue to look carefully at funding for the sector in preparation for the next spending review.”