The Parliamentary Select Committee for Education has published a damning report into education funding for the FE sector.
Calling for a ten-year plan to “fix the broken school and college funding system,” the report refers to a “troubling lack of a long-term vision” and “winner takes all short-termism” driven by a “politically-driven spending review cycle.”
Citing the recent report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies which revealed that in the FE sector, per-student funding has fallen by 16% in real terms, the Committee said:
“This funding gap is the result of policy choices that now need to be addressed urgently. The social justice implications of the squeeze on further education colleges are particularly troubling, given the high proportion of disadvantaged students in these institutions.”
Alarmingly, the report says that education is suffering from administrative disarray. “Most concerning,” it says, “was the astonishing disconnect between the available funding and the costs of delivering a quality education and support system. Indeed, we were unable to determine whether the Department had a clear idea of how much money was needed to fund the various components of the school and college education system appropriately and efficiently. We suspected not.”
Among the recommendations, the report suggests:
- An increase in base rate funding for the FE sector from £4k to at least £4,760.
- The government should increase funding for special needs education.
- The National Funding Formula should be implemented and made forward-looking rather than “reliant on historical factors”.
- The government should extend the Pupil Premium to 16 to 19-year-olds.
- The government must lay out a timetable for implementing apprenticeship transport subsidies, to honour its manifesto commitments.
The Augar Report, published in May 2019, also focused on the underfunded FE sector. Among Augar’s recommendations were that:
- Technical and vocational education at the sub-degree level (levels 4 and 5) should be strengthened to meet skills shortages.
- Cuts to adult skills training should be reversed, and part-time and ‘later life learning’ encouraged.
- The FE sector should be reformed and re-funded – rationalise provision, increase funding for high return courses, improve links to HE, invest in staff to improve recruitment and retention.
- Learning flexibility and lifelong learning should be enhanced (supported by a ‘lifelong learning allowance’), in line with changing career structures.
- Apprenticeship provision should be improved, with better wage return information for careers, strengthening quality through enhancing Ofsted’s role and addressing the barriers SMEs experience in accessing the system.
FE colleges play a vital role in training young people and adults with the skills they and the economy need. They educate more than 1.8 million people a year and generate a substantial rate of return. A study commissioned by Sheffield City Regional Colleges, for example, estimated that society would receive £5.80 in benefits for every pound invested in the group of ten colleges – an 18.2% annual return on investment. A study commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills assessing the social impact of FE learning in 2013 said that a third of learners got a better job as a result of their education. Around half of the learners had increased responsibilities and job security.
Richard Alberg, Chief Executive of MWS said: “It is both pragmatic and socially responsible to properly fund further education. High quality training positively impacts upon citizens’ lives and the nation’s prosperity. I very much welcome the new government’s many statements that it will put more money into education.
“For our part, MWS will continue investing in Aptem to ensure that an ever-growing number of training providers have state of the art vocational training technology that maximises operational efficiency, helps ensure compliance and puts them in control of their delivery.”