MPs will today (September 7) be warned that a worsening cash “crisis” engulfing the sector will cause further cuts to courses, and sixth form college closures, in a Westminster Hall debate on 16 to 19 education funding geared at drumming up support for the Support Our Sixth-formers campaign. Bill Watkin explains below why the Sixth Form Colleges Association co-launched this drive for special government action before it is too late.

Almost every principal will tell you that leading a dedicated sixth form is a wonderful job, a privilege that brings enormous rewards.

They work with – on the whole – motivated and high-achieving colleagues and students, leading autonomous corporations, in an environment that often resembles a family-sized university campus.

They serve diverse communities, make a real difference to the social mobility agenda, and offer a curriculum that blends academic and vocational courses in a far greater number of subjects than might be found elsewhere.

You only have to look at the latest exam results to see just how successful these specialist experts are.

But it is not all plain sailing. 

The low level of funding that sixth-form providers receive continues to be a cause of great concern.

Spending on FE and sixth forms fell by 14 per cent in real terms under the coalition government, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, and rising costs are putting huge additional pressure on stretched budgets.

Colleges are operating with skeleton leadership teams

Colleges are operating with skeleton leadership teams, facing difficult curriculum decisions, and the wrap-around experiences that are so vital to a high-quality sixth-form education are under threat.

This is why the SFCA, the Association of School and College Leaders and the Association of Colleges have launched the Support Our Sixth-formers campaign.

We are calling on the government to introduce a £200 per-student uplift in funding for sixth form students, and conduct a review of sixth form funding to ensure it is linked to the realistic costs of delivering a rounded, high-quality curriculum.

In addition to the mounting funding and accountability pressures, the mental and physical well-being of students and staff is an increasingly important consideration, the curriculum and qualifications reforms of recent years are now in the middle of an implementation period, and ensuring a supply pipeline of expert teachers and staving off recruitment difficulties is a growing concern.

Without urgent investment, sixth form education will become an increasingly narrow experience

Furthermore, these are complex and large organisations, some of which have bank loans and mortgages, while others recruit significant numbers of overseas students, and all are balancing the imperative to work in both collaboration and competition with schools, universities and employers.

Without urgent investment, sixth form education in England will become an increasingly narrow and part time experience – which would be bad for students, bad for social mobility and bad for the economy.

We urge the government to engage fully in the debate today and accept the recommendations in the Support Our Sixth-formers campaign.

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