A new £83 million fund has been launched to ensure colleges can accommodate an expected demographic increase in 16 to 19-year-olds.

The “Post-16 Capacity fund” was promised in chancellor Rishi Sunak’s spending review in November and has opened for bids today.

However, independent training providers and school sixth forms have been excluded.

Only sixth form colleges, 16 to 19 academies, 16 to 19 free schools such as university technical colleges, and general FE colleges are in scope.

Announcing the launch of the fund today, the Department for Education said: “Providers are invited to bid for a share of the fund, which will support projects to create more space for areas where there is due to be a demographic increase in 16–19-year-olds in the 2022/23 academic year.

“This could include building more classroom space or technical teaching facilities, so providers can continue to offer places to every young person who needs one.”

It is separate to the £1.5 billion FE capital fund that is being run over the course of this parliament.

Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said he was “delighted” to see the launch of the capacity fund as his organisation has been making the case for one since 2018.

“Our members have been eagerly awaiting the detail since then, and we expect a significant number to submit a bid to expand their estate in order to create more student places,” he added.

“This is an important first step to accommodating the 260,000 additional 16- to 19-year-olds that will participate in education in the coming years.”

He also said that although the £83 million announced today is only for one year, the SFCA hopes a “longer-term deal can be struck in the forthcoming spending review”.

Commenting on the exclusion of private training providers, Association of Employment and Learning Providers chief executive Jane Hickie said: “The capacity fund would be welcome if it’s enabling parity for school leavers and other learners, for example living on the same housing estate, regardless of where they choose to access their opportunity.

“There is a clear need for ensuring these opportunities are aligned with both classroom and work-based provision. Levelling up requires recognition that post-16 classroom opportunities are not easily accessible everywhere.”

The DfE said independent providers are not eligible as the funding is “aimed at providing sustainable investment in long term educational assets”.

They added that for school sixth forms, which are also excluded, there remains an element of the Condition Improvement Fund that is for expansions.

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