Cross-party group of MPs urge education secretary to include 16-19s in £1bn Covid catch-up plan

A cross-party group of MPs has written to Gavin Williamson today urging him “to extend eligibility for the Covid catch-up fund to include sixth form and other colleges”.

The officers of the All Party Parliamentary Group for sixth form education said they “do not understand why 16 to 19 providers such as sixth form and other colleges are not able to access” the £1 billion support package.

Last Thursday, the Department for Education caused confusion and anger after telling the press that 16 to 19 providers would be included in the Covid-19 catch-up fund only to send out a “correction” two hours later that removed them.

The education secretary and prime minister Boris Johnson then launched the funding to help only school pupils catch-up on the teaching time lost due to the coronavirus pandemic on Friday.

FE Week understands it was the Treasury’s decision to pull colleges from initiative.

In the letter to Williamson sent today, co-chairs of the APPG Dame Diana Johnson MP and Jason McCartney MP said: “The £1 billion Covid catch-up fund to tackle the impact of lost teaching time is welcome, and we hope that it benefits pupils in primary and secondary schools. However, we do not understand why 16 to 19 providers such as sixth form and other colleges are not able to access this fund.

“Funding for 16 to 19 education is significantly lower than funding for 11 to 16 education, and 16 to 19 year olds studying in colleges already face a number of funding inequalities despite being more disadvantaged than their peers in school sixth forms. So we find it very hard to understand why these young people will not be able to benefit from the Covid catch-up fund. 

“We urge you to extend eligibility for the Covid catch-up fund to include sixth form and other colleges, and to clarify whether other 16 to 19 providers such as school sixth forms, 16-19 academies and 16-19 free schools are eligible to access the fund.”

The other Conservative signatories were vice chairs Peter Aldous, Caroline Nokes and William Wragg while the Labour Party’s Rachel Hopkins and the only Green MP Caroline Lucas also lent their support to the appeal.

The letter was also sent to apprenticeships and skills minister Gillian Keegan, chair of the education select committee Robert Halfon as well as academies minister Baroness Berridge.

Williamson dodged multiple questions from MPs who challenged him on the exclusion of colleges from the £1 billion scheme during education questions in the House of Commons yesterday.

Boris Johnson was also quizzed on the issue by Daniel Zeichner MP today. The prime minister said: “We will of course do everything we can to ensure not just our schools but our colleges also get the attention they need.

“There is massive investment now going into the rebuilding of FE colleges and ensuring our FE sector gets the investment it deserves.”

The Association of Colleges and Sixth Form Colleges Association had been in discussions with the DfE about the support package and both expected their members to be included in the announcement.

On the night of the announcement, chief executive of the AoC David Hughes said it was “indefensible to overlook the needs of the 700,000 in colleges”.

At the time, Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, added the last-minute exclusion of FE providers was “unjustifiable”.

The letter sent to Williamson can be accessed here.