As the cost-of-living crisis has gathered pace, affecting homes and businesses alike, all eyes have been on government for support and solutions. Yet the commitment to a further £2.3 billion for schools in 2023 and 2024 was one of only a few bright spots to come out of the autumn statement.
Schools are the crucial foundations of essential, academic, practical and lifelong learning; they provide the socialisation, civic responsibility and world knowledge every child needs. They build an infrastructure of knowledge, skills and behaviour, so that when a learner is preparing for their next steps, they have had the best start possible. Our schools do amazing work and have been under-funded for many years.
I fully concur with Mr Hunt: ‘pro-education is pro-growth’. The best teaching, learning and experiences are essential to ensuring that we have a workforce ready and able to take on the roles of the future, taking us out of recession and ushering in a return to economic growth.
But with no mention of skills or colleges in the announcements, how will we ensure young people and adults have the highest quality technical and vocational training to drive productivity to that end?
Further education has benefitted from significant capital funding projects in the past few years – over £400 million’s worth – to ensure that fit-for-purpose buildings and modern learning facilities, in line with industry standards, are in place to deliver the newly introduced government T level qualifications, higher technical qualifications and apprenticeships. But while essential, a focus on buildings, resources and equipment simply isn’t enough.
Funding rates for 16- to 18-year-olds are 11 per cent lower than they were in 2010 and adult funding is half what it was ten years ago. Yet the costs of delivering have increased, and with inflation now clearing 11 per cent these will continue to soar. Bus trips, subsistence, materials, technology, resources – everything has gone up.
According to Julian Gravatt of the Association of Colleges, between 2015 and 2025 spending on schools will have grown by 51 per cent, higher education student outlays by 71 per cent, yet further education by 25 per cent. Over the same period inflation will have risen by 45 per cent.
Teesside, which my college group serves, is home to Europe’s largest brownfield site, ‘Teesworks’. A freeport with inward investors lining up and some breaking ground now, Teesworks is lined up to become a cradle for the UK’s renewable energy industries and technologies.
There are plans for the site to bring thousands of skilled jobs and regeneration to the area – precisely the ‘levelling up’ and opportunities for social mobility we all wish for. So it’s vital, alongside this incredible repurposing of heritage industries, that skills and the successful colleges and providers which provide them are included in government investment plans.
I do not want to take anything away from the schools who so deserve the increase in funding that they have been allocated. And I am extremely grateful for the financial investment my college group has received in recent years from the government. But I would call upon the chancellor to reflect on the funding of further education.
It would be encouraging to see education discussed as a whole in such announcements, with a closer focus on the various learning provisions that make up our education system, and inclusion of further education as a separate entity.
Further education works with industry to build curriculum to deliver knowledge and skills aligned to the jobs of the future. We work with employers to ensure learners have access to the best work experience and industry placements to support them in developing the attitudes and behaviours of the workplace. And we work with other providers to ensure that the local offer is inclusive and fit for the demands of the local community.
Colleges, sixth forms and training providers collaborate to support the delivery of economic growth – but this comes at a cost, and that cost is increasing.
Pro-education is indeed pro-growth, but we must be pro-entire-education, ensuring there is a sustainable strategy for post-16 education through and beyond this recession.