Sustaining Support for 16-19 Tuition Funding

As the chancellor prepares his spring budget, Cheri Ashby argues for keeping what is a vital funding stream for closing disadvantage gaps

As the chancellor prepares his spring budget, Cheri Ashby argues for keeping what is a vital funding stream for closing disadvantage gaps

19 Feb 2024, 14:00

As we look to the future of education, the prime minister’s commitment to extending the study of English and maths until the age of 18 holds great promise.

However, within the further education sector this pledge presents us with a unique challenge not found in secondary schools. Around 90 per cent of students coming into FE colleges do not have a grade 4 at GCSE English and/or maths and are therefore already at a disadvantage to their peers who have achieved this.

This picture we are seeing across the UK’s colleges is startling and this is compounded when you think that the FE sector is responsible for delivering education to learners from some of the most deprived and disadvantaged areas in the UK. In fact, it’s estimated that 45 per cent of learners in FE colleges are from the two most disadvantaged quintiles.

Which is why the prime minister’s promise at the time of the announcement of “extra help for those who struggle the most” to ensure no young person is “left behind” has even more importance.

To address these disparities and empower young minds, it is imperative to provide robust support beyond what they received in school. The need for extra assistance becomes even more pronounced when we consider the concerning drop in funding for disadvantaged young people at the age of 16, with 16- to 19-year-olds ineligible for pupil premium support.

We welcomed the government’s introduction of ringfenced catch-up funding, which we’ve used effectively to implement small-group tuition for 16- to 19-year-olds in 2020, a crucial step in responding to the challenges posed by the pandemic. Small-group tuition has proven to be one of the most effective interventions, with just 12 hours of tutoring shown to drive three months of additional progress. For Activate Learning, this marked the first time we could deliver such interventions at scale, showcasing tangible benefits for our students.

Discontinuing the 16-19 Tuition Fund is not a viable solution

At Activate Learning, we have witnessed the positive impact of this funding firsthand. We have utilised the resources to introduce new roles, such as Intensive Progress Coaches, who facilitate personal development sessions to support learning progress, individual engagement and wellbeing. The ability to provide targeted personalised help, ensuring students receive the support they need, has meant that we have been able to minimise the impact of the pandemic for those who have engaged in the process.

But as the 16-19 Tuition Fund faces a potential end in August 2024, it is crucial that we recognise the ongoing effects the pandemic is still having on the education of our young people.

We know that the disruption to younger people’s education has been profound, with a lack of classroom-based learning impacting on fundamental skills such as maths and English, as wells as their social skills.

The result is that colleges are having to grapple with unprecedented numbers of students needing to retake English and maths, and the skills gaps among incoming students are more pronounced.

This is also exacerbated by the increased number of learners who are struggling with their mental health post-pandemic and need increasing pastoral care to maintain their education.

For those of us in education, it’s clear that the repercussions of the pandemic will be felt for years, particularly among the youngest pupils.

While the pandemic’s challenges persist, discontinuing the 16-19 Tuition Fund is not a viable solution. The funding has been instrumental in providing crucial support, enabling colleges like ours to address the unique needs of students who have faced disruptions.

Beyond mere education recovery, this additional funding has the potential to play a pivotal role in closing the attainment gap we know exists. It should be embedded into our education system on a sustained basis, aligning with the government’s levelling up agenda and enabling further education colleges like ours to undertake enduring strategic investments that we know have a positive impact on student outcomes.

Now is not the time to withdraw this essential support. Ending the funding risks dismantling valuable infrastructure built to help those who struggle the most in education.

Sustained catch-up funding can further amplify the positive strides made in mitigating the effects of the pandemic. At Activate Learning, we earnestly hope the prime minister will honour his commitment to providing extra support for those who need it most, and truly ensure no young person is left behind in their pursuit of education.

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