The £400m extra for FE is both a one year ‘manager’s special’ and inadequate

1 Sep 2019, 13:39

If you’ve been working in a increasingly arid financial desert for years, even a few splashes of liquid on the face will seem welcome.

Not a fertile oasis, but might get you to next water hole before you expire from thirst.

So  I know why many of the people I and Angie Rayner stood alongside from the deck of a megaphoned double decker bus in Parliament Square in solidarity with the ‘Raise the Rate’ and ‘Love Our Colleges’ crowds below (which campaigns have finally forced a Tory Chancellor’s hand) should want to feel some relief from his Spending Review.

But it’s those campaigners who deserve nearly all the credit due – not Sajid Javid. And as the details of his spending get unpicked and scrutinised in his Wednesday statement to Parliament – unless that gets prorogued along with his Budget – the more the old phrase ‘the devil’s in the detail’ will come to mind.

Both AoC and UCU have already said £400 million is not adequate to reverse the Government cuts as Boris Johnson promised, or to restore stability to a sector battered by a  £3 billion hole in funding from the last 9 years.

AoC’s initial assessment of a 4.7% increase on the base rate to fund 16-18 year olds is a start, but hardly the Holy Grail – remember that cohort is projected to rise rapidly from 2020 onwards.

The £25 million more to deliver ‘T Levels’ is a scattershot – and may simply be a rehash of part of the £500 million Government promised ages ago by 2022.

And as long as the baleful eye of Nick Gibb blocks off the potential for young FE learners, especially apprentices, to succeed with functional skills options and not be knocked out by endless resits, the £25m targeted at those getting below level 4 in GCSE English and Maths could just be money down the drain.

But the complete failure to do anything for FE for 19 year olds and beyond is extraordinary. It risks turning them into another lost generation.

A mixed economy of pre and post 19 learners isn’t just desirable for inclusion in the communities colleges serve, it’s vital for FE survival by sustaining a wide range of courses and sources of income.

We know how badly decisions after 2010 by Government to axe grants and offer loans for FE  to those in their 20s and beyond have played in take up – with hundreds of millions of pounds scandalously returned to the Treasury unused year on year.

There is nothing for older adult learners either.

Dire warnings from the Augar review about urgently combatting the 45%. fall in numbers – all entirely ignored.

Yet all the projections about economic rapid obsolescence in the 2020s show retraining and skilling isn’t  just an option it’s a necessity, alongside a  growing gig economy of self employed for whom Levels 3 and above will be an essential.

Who better to lead that ‘second chance’ charge and bolster colleges’ financial precariousness – (as the NAO has warne) – if not FE.colleges?  Yet this Chancellor puts nothing into their bowl.

That omission sits alongside others in this Review. The Chancellor’s ignored the training providers who provide 7 out of 10 of apprenticeships for whom AELP has consistently lobbied. No initiatives to enable FE to help  hundreds of thousands of young people stagnanting in the NEETs category.

Fortunately there is an alternative

Very little either, as UCU has pointed out, to tackle the £7k income gap between teachers and staff colleges and those in schools.

No strategy for a staffing crisis with retirement depletions, lack of CPD opportunities, and too many younger staff worn down or leaving because of short term,  low hours contracts.

Who will be left to teach the expansion of T levels in the sector? The £20m promised won’t even start to scratch the surface of these problems.

On top of this, Brexit  and challenges of climate extinction will need a huge capacity charge for the sector.

Boris Johnson crashing our economy over a no deal cliff would make things even worse.

Fortunately there is an alternative.

It’s in the promises Labour made in our 2017 manifesto about properly funding and nurturing the FE sector , our commitment to a Green New Deal, Industrial  Strategy and Transformation Fund which open up huge new Skills and training opportunities.

And our  National Education Service’s Life Long Learning Commission, hard at work since the spring tackling  with dynamism the challenge  of refashioning our FE, skills and HE sectors into a 21st century model fit for learners, providers and our economy rather than just another lick of paint on an outmoded 20th century one.

Instead of which FE is being offered just a one year ‘manager’s special’ – a quick deal soufflé from Sajid Javid.

Designed for potential General Election consumption but full, when you bit into it, of the whipped but insubstantial cream Mrs Thatcher did research on in her early career.

If Johnson’s ministers want to win people over, it will take more than this to do it.

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