Tom Fellows

Author: Tom Fellows

25/10/2018 09:04:42

In this blog Tom explains why the National Governance Association (NGA) is joining the Raise the Rate campaign to increase 16-19 funding, organised by the Sixth Form Colleges Association, and why this is an important issue for all governors and trustees across the country.

Click here to visit the Raise the Rate website.

With the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, announcing his autumn budget on 29 October, and an eagerly awaited cross-departmental spending review planned for Spring next year, public service providers up and down the country are making strong cases for why they need a vital injection of funding.

Amongst those awaiting their fair share of the fiscal pie are the governors and trustees of schools and colleges across England. The recent march in Westminster, which involved thousands of school leaders, demonstrates that the sector is getting increasingly exasperated, even desperate in some cases, about funding. While schools welcome assistance to make efficiencies and savings, there is no escaping the financial realities: state-school per pupil budgets have fallen by 8% in real-terms since 2009/10, with the latest School Governance in 2018 report of 5,218 governors and trustees finding that many schools in England have needed to reduce staff numbers, increase class sizes and narrow the curriculum as a result. This is why NGA set up the Funding the Future campaign to increase the overall size of school budgets and ensure young people get the education they deserve.

Yet, while all in the education sector are feeling the pinch, one group that has particularly suffered is 16-19 providers. Whereas primary and secondary school spending was largely protected in real terms from 2010-15, the 16-19 budget has remained unprotected. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Department for Education has dug deep beneath the 16-19 sofa to make public savings – with major cuts to the further education budget in 2011 and 2013. As James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, outlined in a recent evidence session to the education select committee:

In 2010 the decision was made to protect education funding [in cash terms] up to the age of 16, and I think the worst place to be is in the unprotected part of a protected department”.

These cuts have meant that, according to the House of Commons Library, total expenditure on 16-19 provision fell by £600 million between 2010/11 and 2016/17. Put another way, a recent London Economics report found that some 16-19 providers were receiving an average of £1,380 less per pupil compared to 2010/11 – representing a 22% real-terms cut to the budget.

These cuts have significantly altered what the further education sector can offer to their pupils. Data from the Sixth Form Colleges Association’s 2017 Funding Impact Survey found that, of sixth-form colleges surveyed, many have needed to reduce the subjects they offer, with a 50 per cent drop in modern foreign language (MFL) courses and a 34 per cent drop in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) courses. Furthermore, over three quarters of the sixth-form colleges surveyed have needed to increase the number of pupils per class and a massive 67% have also needed to reduce extra-curricular activities and/or student support services. Similar findings emerged from the School Governance in 2018 report, with 67% of the schools with sixth forms that responded reporting that they have needed to cut back the number of subjects on offer, 34% have reduced the number of staff teaching at a 16-19 level, and 32% have increase class sizes. Worryingly, the School Governance in 2018 report found an alarming increase in the number of schools with sixth forms taking action because of funding pressures since 2017. 

From a layperson's perspective, however, the impact of funding cuts are masked by the fact that A-level results have remained stable since 2010. While it is important not to undermine the extraordinary effort of 16-19 professionals to generate good outcomes for pupils despite severe funding difficulties, having stable A-level results does not necessarily mean that pupils are getting the same quality of provision. Because of the 'comparable outcomes' system in the UK (whereby, if a cohort of students is broadly of the same ability, the same proportion of pupils will receive the same grades each year) judging the quality of provision on pupil outcomes is misguided. Furthermore, looking solely at academic outcomes does not account for the important extra-curricular and support services 16-19 pupils have lost over the years.  

If we instead compare what is offered post-16 in England with others internationally, it is clear that further education provision in this country is nowhere near as comprehensive as what is offered elsewhere. For instance, Singapore, Canada and Shanghai each offer over 25 hours of contact time, on average, for 16-19 year olds per week. In contrast, further education students in England receive a weekly average of just 15 hours tuition time.

It would, however, be unfair to say that the government has failed to acknowledge the pressures upon 16-19 providers. Indeed, between 2015 and 2017 the Department for Education carried out a series of country-wide area reviews to restructure the further education sector and make it more financially viable. Furthermore, the government has introducing a large number of initiatives and reforms over the years in the further education sector – most notably pledging much-needed investment in alternative and technical education routes post-16, including apprenticeships and T-levels. However, with A-levels still remaining the most popular qualification for 16-19 pupils as of 2016/17, it is clear that structural change, efficiency saving schemes and investment in non-academic routes does not go far enough – ultimately, there is just not enough money in the pot to fund the basic provision most 16-19 year olds require.

The importance of Raising the Rate for the whole sector

This is why 12 organisations, including the NGA, have joined the Raise the Rate campaign calling on the government to increase 16-19 funding by £760 per pupil, with an additional £140 per pupil if the Teachers’ Pension Contribution is not funded adequately by the government. This figure has not been plucked out of the air but is based upon robust research carried out by London Economics. This is the minimum amount of money needed to help schools and colleges build a wider 16-19 curriculum, increase contact time to 25 hours per week and help fund vital welfare services to support pupils throughout their studies.

While this extra funding will immediately benefit 16-19 providers, all governors and trustees, regardless of phase, should get behind the campaign. With schools investing so much time, effort and resource into pupil outcomes pre-16, it is a sector-wide issue that 16-19 year olds are having their life options restricted by an increasingly narrow range of A-level subjects, limited contact time and large class sizes – all of which can be solved through additional investment. If education is a life-long journey, ensuring that it is fairly funded at all stages is vitally important to ensuring social mobility and building a truly meritocratic society.

If you would like to take action, the Raise the Rate campaign is encouraging governors and trustees to write to their MPs to raise awareness of budgetary issues in education, particularly amongst 16-19 providers. For more details, visit the Raise the Rate website.

* Infographics and data courtesy of the Sixth Form Colleges Association and the Raise the Rate campaign group.

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