Colleges, English and maths

New English and maths funding conditions are unnecessary, unworkable and must be suspended

Government has found a way of making new money feel like a wholly backward step, writes David Hughes

Government has found a way of making new money feel like a wholly backward step, writes David Hughes

16 Feb 2024, 16:30

With funding for 16 to 18 education lower now in real terms than it was in 2010 you’d imagine that any new investment would be welcomed by college leaders with open arms. Well think again, because the government has found a way of making new money feel like a wholly backward step by imposing unnecessary, unhelpful and unworkable conditions for a modest amount of extra funding. And worst of all, conditions that will have a wholly negative impact on students’ chances of success.

Back in October, the prime minister launched his vision for a new 16 to 18 phase of education with more hours, more breadth and more support for those who the system has failed by age 16. In a very welcome but unusual step, he pledged more funding for the 40 per cent of young people who do not achieve a grade 4 in English and/or maths at age 16 and who are required to resit as part of their study programme. Nearly all of the re-sitters are in colleges, around 200,000 each year. 

Extra funding to support their learning has to be a good thing, and nobody argues that carrying on learning to become proficient in English and maths is not a good thing, too. So what, then, is the problem? 

Put simply, some busy officials somewhere in the Whitehall machine have devised a set of new rules which go alongside the modest funding of £375 per learner. They’ve done this with no engagement with colleges and they’ve got it wrong. 

We are asking ministers to suspend these new conditions immediately and work with us to find a better way forward. 

Here’s how they’ve got it wrong: it will damage the life chances of the students it is meant to help, it is unworkable because of the low pay in colleges making recruitment of new maths and English teachers almost impossible, and it flies in the face of the work DfE is doing to simplify the system. Perhaps most worryingly, it shows how little trust there is from DfE in colleges. 

Explaining how this will damage life chances needs a bit of detailed explanation. In England, 16- to 18-year-old students in schools and colleges are funded for about 16 hours per week of teaching, pastoral support and enrichment, for 36 weeks (580 hours per year). The Prime Minister has now conceded that is not enough, with OECD countries commonly funding 25 to 30 hours per week, so the plan is to increase this over the next 10 years.

For T Level students the government is already funding more hours- up to 25 per week in some subjects. For those young people who need to resit both English and maths, though, they are expected to do it within the 16 hours per week and up until next year, with no extra funding either. The new funding announced for next year is £375 per student, but it now comes with the condition that 4 hours are spent on maths and 3 hours spent on English. That only leaves 9 hours per week for the main subject. It’s simply not fair and won’t work. 

It’s a very good example of how we let down those who need the most support. Nine hours per week for those struggling with English and maths whilst those who passed at age 16 get 25 hours for some T Levels. It demoralises young people who are often highly motivated to learn skills they can take into the workplace. It slows down their learning and progress just at the point where many recognise how learning can help them in life and in work. It’s an outrageous situation that needs to change and DfE needs to work with us to find a better way forwards.

The wider issues also need addressing, because it is already impossible for schools and colleges to find the teachers and lecturers they need. But with college lecturer pay on average £9,000 per annum behind school teacher pay, finding maths teachers for resit students is nigh on impossible. Nationally our estimate is that colleges will need to recruit an extra 800 maths and 400 English teachers just at the time when most colleges are reporting vacancies already. We need a government-funded plan on how that pay gap will be closed, and soon.

This sad state of affairs reflects a lack of trust in colleges and a low level of understanding of the challenges their students face. Whilst DfE’s current efforts to simplify the burdensome, unwieldy and unnecessary bureaucracy seem genuine, it’s clear that the cultural mindset is to micro-manage, mistrust and tie colleges up in knots. That too has to change, and soon.

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  1. Jon Ryder

    Providing 4 hours per week of Maths teaching will cost somewhere above £10K on teacher time alone, without any costs of resources, premises, energy etc etc.
    Income of £375 per student indicates a break-even average class size of 27, assuming that all of the revenue can be spent on teacher time.
    Students who find Maths more difficult need much smaller classes and probably benefited from smaller classes when they achieved less than Grade 4 in Year 11 at school.
    This seems designed to discourage providers from accepting students who have not yet achieved Level 2 in English and Maths.

  2. AOC have been recommending below inflation pay increases for well over a decade but now there is a whiff of change in the air, they are pointing to disparity in pay between schools and FE.

    And that’s before we get onto the subject of zero hours contracts (20% of the college workforce). Those individuals are excluded from average salary calculations, so the gap is wider than reported.

    If you take goodwill out of the equation, you get what you pay for.