The next government should increase funding for sixth-formers by at least £710 per student, college leaders have demanded.
The uplift would see funding for 16-19-year-olds keep pace with inflation, deliver teacher pay awards, and pay for non-qualification time like employment and mental health support.
Estimates by the Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA) show a funding rise at this level would cost the government an extra £135 million per year just for students in sixth-form colleges and 16-19 academies. It would see average per-student funding for sixth-formers rise from £5,760 to £6,470.
The figures come from research organisation London Economics, which was commissioned by SFCA to model the costs of per-student funding increases.
Its report, published today, found average real-terms funding for sixth-form colleges has dropped by 15 per cent. In 2023/24, funding was £5,760 per student, lower than the £6,820 per student in 2010/11.
“Sixth-form colleges have seen a significant real-terms funding erosion since 2010/11, and even the additional funds allocated in recent spending reviews have done little to reverse this trend,” said Maike Halterbeck, divisional director at London Economics.
The report estimates an extra £410 per student is needed so the per-student rate in 2025/26 remains the same in real terms as in 2023/24.
Additionally, a further £300 per student would be needed to provide the additional hours of student support such as mental health and welfare services plus employability training, tutorial activities.
These new figures form “the first priority” in SFCA’s general election manifesto, also published today.
Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said: “Mental health, welfare and employability services are not ‘nice to haves’, they are essential elements of the support that sixth form colleges provide to students.
“That is why raising the rate of funding is the first priority in our election manifesto. We urge all political parties to adopt all six of our priorities ahead of this year’s election to ensure that sixth-form students in England receive the education and support they need to prosper.”
London Economics calculated that an extra £1,290 would be needed by 2025-26 to “fully reverse the substantial real-terms erosion” of sixth-form funding, raising the funding per learner to £7,050.
The report also calculated the additional cost of delivering an extra 2.5 hours of teaching time per week – a key element of the government’s proposed Advanced British Standard qualification – would need an additional £1,760, bringing the average per-learner funding rate up to £7,520.
The call for additional funding forms part of the SFCA’s six manifesto priorities for the next government following this year’s expected general election.
Alongside its headline funding ask, the SFCA, which has led the charge against government plans to defund level 3 qualifications that rival T Levels, wants the next government to promise to retain BTECs.
“BTECs are popular with students and parents, respected by employers and universities, and provide a well-established route to higher education or employment – particularly for disadvantaged young people. A commitment should be made to retain BTECs in the current three-route qualification system alongside A levels and T Levels,” the manifesto says.
The membership organisation has also called for a guarantee that core funding for 16- to 19-year-olds does not fall below the level of core funding for 11- to 16-year-olds and for the pupil premium to extend to 16-19-year-olds.
It also wants the next government to commit to expanding existing colleges to deal with a demographic boom of sixth-formers, rather than opening new competitor institutions.
SFCA’s general election manifesto priorities:
- Raise the rate of funding for sixth-form students by at least £710 per year
- Protect student choice by retaining BTECs alongside A levels and T levels
- Co-ordinate policymaking and cut bureaucracy
- Tackle the teacher recruitment and retention crisis
- Create capital funds for expansion and maintenance
- Conduct an evidence-based review of the sixth-form curriculum