A three-year funding cycle was one of the key proposals in the AoC’s submission on the Spending Review, explains David Corke.

Colleges may just be the most important element of the government’s plan to improve productivity in the UK.

With industry-standard facilities and expert teachers, students receive the very best technical and professional education, which equips them with the skills to go to work. Colleges should, therefore, be respected and valued.

However, there is a risk that, under its Spending Review, the government will cut funding to the FE sector yet again. As funding for colleges is not protected in the ring-fenced budget that covers funding for schools, whenever savings need to be made, FE is in the firing line. It has to stop.

Funding cuts with little or no notice make it extremely difficult for colleges to predict and plan organisational finances and make sure they have enough money to pay for the services they offer

In a submission to the Spending Review, the AoC has called on the Government to make some changes to the way colleges are funded.

Our message is simple — education funding must be fair. When a student moves from school to college, the funding for their education drops by about 22 per cent. This is not acceptable.

If colleges are to provide the kind of quality A-levels and technical and professional education required to produce a skilled workforce, the funding must be there to pay for it.

Colleges are more than capable of creating the education and skills training that employers need, but they need the financial backing of the government.

Colleges also need to know in advance when and how much funding they will receive to allow them to adequately prepare their own budgets.

It is impossible to decide how to spend money when you don’t know when the next payment is coming and how much it will be. Funding cuts with little or no notice make it extremely difficult for colleges to predict and plan organisational finances and make sure they have enough money to pay for the services they offer.

A three-year funding cycle, as in our submission to the Spending Review, would mean that budgets would be set three years in advance, allowing colleges the chance to better manage their finances.

The government’s aim is to ensure that the UK’s workforce is highly and appropriately skilled so as to increase productivity. One of its ideas for achieving that goal is to create 3m apprenticeship starts by 2020, which will be challenging.

Colleges act as an important conduit in the apprenticeship system, playing the role not only of training provider, but also helping to source the employer to provide a job for the apprentice.

At present, the government has said it will introduce a levy to encourage — though some would say force — large employers to invest in apprenticeships.

Of course, creating more opportunities for work-plus-training for young people is laudable, but it is important that while straining for quantity, the quality of the apprenticeships does not decline.

An apprenticeship is only of value while it is preparing the apprentice for a good career within a sector, rather than just training them to work for a specific employer.

If the levy was set at 0.5 per cent of payroll costs, as AoC suggests, paid by all public and private organisations with more than 250 employees, this would support good quality training.

Securing a levy from businesses is one thing, but great consideration must be given to how it is spent.

Colleges work with employers to identify the needs of the local economy but it is important that this is a coordinated effort by the whole community. Local councils and other education providers need to be involved to ensure the right priorities are set to train young people for the jobs that are available.

Funding helps colleges to provide quality education and training to their local community and it must stay that way. Government must support them if it is to get the highly skilled workforce that the UK economy needs.

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