Sefton Central MP Bill Esterson has called on the Government to address the scandal of further education funding, saying 16 to 19-year-olds had become the “poor relations” of the education system.
The MP is backing a campaign by the Association of Colleges (AoC) asking the Government to boost funding for sixth forms and colleges.
Mr Esterson met with Formby High headteacher Dominic Mackenzie who said the AoC’s demand for an immediate £200 per pupil uplift in funding would make a huge difference to his school and its students.
Mr Mackenzie said: “£200 per student would give us an immediate £50,000 boost which would make a huge difference. We could employ an extra teacher and still have money left to spend on other resources.
“But even £200 per student is not enough.
“The current funding situation means that sixth forms and colleges across the country will find it increasingly difficult to offer the range of subjects they used to and provide the number of teaching hours recommended to deliver courses over the two years.
“There may also be the need for bigger class sizes and all this risks reducing the offer for the students who are now being asked to take more rigorous exams than ever but with less funding to help prepare them.”
Colleges and sixth forms receive £4,531 per year per student, 21% less than the £5,751 received by secondary schools to educate 11-16 year olds.
In higher education there is a spend of £8,781 per student and in private school sixth forms spending is on average £15,333 per student – more than three times than in the state sector.
Mr Esterson said he backed the AoC’s calls for an immediate £200 per student uplift and a review of the situation long-term: “The drop in funding for 16-19 education is nothing short of a scandal and students in my constituency and across the country are being let down.
“A modest £200 per pupil uplift in funding would allow teaching hours to increase to improve the range of the curriculum and enrichment activities available to students to increase their employability, social capital and aid social mobility.
“I know how important education and training is in my constituency. We have to make sure that young people are provided with the support and guidance they need to succeed in their chosen career.
“Formby High, like schools across the constituency, do an incredible job in these difficult circumstances, but how much longer can they go on providing a top-class education on a shoe-string budget?”
Mr Esterson, shadow Business and International Trade minister, dismissed the cost implications and said there was the money available. A £200 increase in funding would cost around £244m a year, which the AoC said could be funded by the underspend in the education budget last year. Mr Esterson said: “It is not a question of whether we can afford to do this but whether we can afford not to. We have a skills shortage and a productivity problem in this country and we need young people with the right qualifications and training to take the UK forward post-Brexit.
“The Government has no hope of achieving a successful vibrant growing economy without the necessary investment, and A Level and college students do not deserve to be the poor relations in the education system.”
Where once compulsory education ended at 16, there is now an expectation that all young people will stay in education or training up to the age of 18. The Conservatives promised in the Queen’s Speech this year “to work to ensure that all schools are fairly funded”.
The AoC is calling for a proper review to be carried out to address what is a chronic underfunding compared to the independent sector and other leading economies across the world. Labour MP Nic Dakin last week (Thursday Sept 7) led a Westminster Hall debate to highlight the issue.
He said that cuts to education funding for 16 to 19 year olds were fast turning English sixth form education into a part-time experience, with sixth formers now only receiving half as much tuition time as sixth formers in other leading economies.
Where it was once standard for UK teenagers to study up to four A Levels, the funding that schools and colleges now receive often covers the cost of delivering no more than three A level or equivalent qualiﬁcations.
Funding issues mean providing support for educationally or economically disadvantaged pupils is also becoming more difficult, and this is becoming an obstacle to improving social mobility.
Schools increasingly find themselves having to use the funding intended for 11-16 year olds to subsidise their sixth forms, which risks damaging the education of younger students also.
Mr Dakin added: “The sort of education that we would all want for our children, the sort of education they deserve and the country needs them to have. It is time for the Government to make true its promise to bring fair funding to our schools, including our sixth formers.”