A cross-party group of MPs has called on the education secretary to reverse his adult education budget clawback plans to give colleges “financial security” amid the pandemic.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on FE has also urged ministers to give students leaving college a fully funded extra year of study and introduce a new fund to support disadvantaged 16 to 19-year-olds to help make up for lost learning.
The members state that these shorter-term decisions are crucial to support the government’s overarching goals on skills reform as outlined in the Skills Bill this week.
Led by chair and Conservative MP Peter Aldous, the group has penned a letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson with the demands and urging him to announce his Covid catch-up plan.
It comes after Education Policy Institute research claimed it will take £13.5 billion to make up for lost learning.
The MPs’ letter states that colleges are currently facing “a number of challenges” in delivering the catch-up support needed, which is “in no small part due to the fact that college finances have been hit hard as a consequence of the significant disruption caused by the pandemic, and compounded by the recent decision by the EFSA to clawback adult skills funding from colleges”.
Announced in March and forced by the Treasury, the clawback decision means that any college that delivers less than 90 per cent of their national adult education allocation must repay the difference between that threshold and their actual delivery.
The Education and Skills Funding Agency has also ruled out a business case process whereby colleges could put forward reasons as to why they should cling on to the money if they did not reach the threshold.
Research by the Association of Colleges suggests that this decision will be in effect nearly a £60 million cut to adult funding, announced eight months into the academic year it applies to, giving colleges little time to reduce costs.
The APPG is calling on Williamson to revise the approach for the ESFA to take a business case approach.
Last month, colleges called on the prime minister to intervene in the “devastating” clawback plans, warning that they risk courses being scrapped and redundancies.
To go with this, the APPG has said a new “simple, flexible” fund should be introduced to give students a free extra year of college. The fund would allow colleges to “design programmes lasting between six months to one year to meet needs and outcomes, with a bursary to support some of the most disadvantaged learners to participate”.
A school and college leavers scheme was introduced last year by government, which gives 18 and 19 year olds who are struggling to find work due to Covid-19 the opportunity to study “targeted” level 2 and 3 courses for a third year free of charge. The fund was only available for the 2020/21 academic year.
Lastly, the APPG wants Williamson to provide colleges with “targeted support for the most disadvantaged learners through a 16 to 19 student premium”, just like the pupil premium in schools.
“We ask that the student premium be paid to 16-, 17-and 18-year-olds to reflect the government’s commitment to supporting the needs of young people, the skills agenda, and the wider governments social mobility goals.”
This student premium would cost around £100 million using the secondary school eligibility criteria and funding level, the group added.
The letter is undersigned by Peter Aldous MP other members of the group including Lord Blunkett, Baroness Garden of Frognal, Stephen Farry MP, and Emma Hardy MP.