New research leads AoC to demand extra funding for students with 'complex' needs

Funding for students progressing to college from Pupil Referral Units should more than double to £10,000, the Association of Colleges has said.

A new report, published by the organisation at the start of Colleges Week, has highlighted the barriers that colleges face when trying to re-integrate “marginalised” young people back into mainstream education.

The research, conducted via interviews with staff from four general FE colleges – Bridgwater and Taunton College, Leeds City College, Walsall College and Waltham Forest College – found that “insufficiency of funding” is the “single biggest challenge”.

It said current funding gaps between alternative provision (AP) settings – places that provide education for children who can’t go to a mainstream school, such as Pupil Referral Units (PRUs) – and college means there is a drop of on average of £6,000 per pupil.

This prevents colleges from “providing all of the necessary support and the smaller group sizes that would benefit the students”, who often have “complex” needs. It also restricts the amount of training provided to “help staff adopt the most effective practices and understand the issues the students face”.

AoC chief executive David Hughes said current funding is “simply lacking meaning that their needs cannot be fully met and causes colleges undue strain”.

The organisation has now called on the government to provide an additional £6,000 per year for every student attending college who has come from an AP setting, on top of the normal £4,188 base rate that all 16 to 18 learners will receive from 2020/21.

It is the latest call for more college funding by the AoC, which upped its base rate plea for 16 to 18-year-olds from £4,760 to £5,000 per year in February, which it says is needed to avoid a T-levels crisis.

Colleges are able to apply for high needs funding for a student over and above the extra £6,000 they receive in AP settings. However, the AoC’s research found just one out of the four colleges received this top-up funding from their local authority.

The remainder were “reliant on Element 1 funding plus additional learning support funding (ALS)”.

The AoC’s research attempted to uncover the scale of AP students in colleges, but found there is no precise data to calculate this.

Respondents said there is a lack of a specific Individual Learning Record (ILR) categories to support data collection.

They added that “poor quality” or “lack of transition information” also prevented them from building up an accurate picture of the scale of the issue. They described transition information provided by the pre-16 provider, local authority, or other referring agency (where students were NEET) as “inadequate or patchy”.

The AoC has also called on the government to create an ILR that identifies students who were out of school during key stage 4 to help track funding and progress.

Hughes said: “We know there are growing challenges for colleges supporting the rising number of young people who were not at school during their GCSE years due to off-rolling, home schooling or exclusion. Their needs can be complex and while colleges offer safe, positive and transformative educational experiences for these young people they need sufficient funding to keep up with the demand.

“There is real risk of colleges not being able to offer this bespoke support to all those who need it. 

“College leaders and staff providing this sort of provision are clear that lack of transition information also leads to difficulties. To allow colleges to have the best chance of meeting their needs, which are sometimes combined with mental health and behavioural issues there needs to be joined up sharing of data and for local authorities to undertake education, health and care plans when requested.

“With the right resources, colleges can help young people turn their lives around and prevent them from becoming NEET and / or taking the wrong path to crime or drugs.”

Colleges Week is calling for greater recognition and investment in colleges, and will see colleges across the country hosting local events and speaking to their local MPs. It is taking place from 14 to 18 October 2019.

Read the full AP report here.