Increase 16-19 funding by ‘significant amount’, Social Mobility Commission urges

The government should raise the funding rate for 16 to 19-year-olds by a “significant amount” in the upcoming spending review, the Social Mobility Commission has said, piling yet more pressure on the Treasury.

The commission’s 2018-19 State of the Nation report says funding for the age group has “fallen 12 per cent since 2011-2012 and is now eight per cent lower than for secondary schools”, leading to “cuts to the curriculum and student support services that harm disadvantaged students”.

It has now added its voice to those from across the education sector and political parties that sixth form funding is not sustainable at its current level, and called on the chancellor Philip Hammond to fix the situation in the spending review.

The base rate funding per 16 to 18-year-old student has been stuck at £4,000 per year for the last five years. Campaigns including Raise the Rate, which is led by the Sixth Form Colleges Association, are calling for this to be increased to £4,760.

The Association of Colleges has meanwhile said the rate should be upped to £5,000, which it says is needed to avoid a T-levels crisis.

“Further education provides alternative life chances for all 16 plus age groups,” said Alastair da Costa, a Social Mobility Commission commissioner and chair of the Capital City College Group.

“Consistent budget cuts have made it more difficult to provide opportunities for everyone. But as 75 per cent of disadvantaged 16 to 19 year-olds choose vocational education, the cuts represent a class-based segregation of the school system.”

David Hughes, the chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “Treasury and DfE should carefully consider these recommendations because they echo similar calls from many other reports and institutions, including employers groups such as the CBI.

“The case is so strong now, we simply are awaiting the Treasury to acknowledge and respond in the spending review this year.”

Today’s report found that “twice” the number of disadvantaged 16-18-year-olds are in FE colleges compared to school sixth forms and this “segregation” within the education system has risen by 1.2 per cent since 2013.

It said that disadvantaged students “still do worse in improving their scores when they resit level 2 exams compared to their more affluent peers and the gap between disadvantaged and advantaged students is growing”.

The commission said the government should “introduce a Student Premium for disadvantaged students aged 16-19 that models the Pupil Premium in schools, with a goal of targeting funding and focussing on raising attainment for disadvantaged students”.

The commission also found that, driven by funding shortfalls and a £2,500 difference in pay between FE and school teachers, recruiting and retaining teachers in FE colleges is a “major problem”.

“Ninety per cent of colleges report difficulty recruiting and the average college had 16 vacancies at the start of the 17/18 school year, creating volatility for students and impacting on student attainment,” it reported.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said: “We want to create opportunity for everyone. Employment has risen in every UK region under this government, wages are outstripping inflation, the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers has narrowed and the proportion of 16 and 17-year-olds in education or apprenticeships is at its highest ever. 

“We are supporting pupils to thrive at every stage – setting a 10-year ambition to boost children’s early reading and communication skills, transforming technical education and providing coaching for young jobseekers.”