My article for Politics Home:
In its offer to the British people this year the Conservative Party promised fair funding for schools but its current proposals wholly ignore post-16. This made sense when compulsory education ended at 16, but is nonsense now the Raising of the Participation Age means everyone remains in education and training up to 18. And it is not being honest with the electorate who would expect the fair funding promise to cover sixth formers.
It is those very sixth formers who are now being most short-changed by our education system.
The average funding of £4,531 per student received by Colleges and school sixth forms is already 21% less than the £5,751 per pupil received to educate 11-16 year olds in secondary schools. This compares with average spending once they progress into higher education of £8,781 per student. And in private schools the funding of students actually increases post-16 to reflect the additional cost - £15,333 per student!
Worryingly cuts to education funding for 16 to 19 year olds in 2011, 2013 and 2014 are fast turning English sixth form education into a part time experience.
Recent research from the Institute of Education describes sixth form education in England as “uniquely narrow and short” compared to the high performing education systems in Shanghai, Singapore, Canada and elsewhere. Our sixth formers are now only funded to receive half the tuition time as sixth formers in other leading economies. Students in other leading education systems – our global competitors - receive more tuition time and study more subjects.
The funding that schools and colleges now receive to educate sixth formers covers the cost of delivering just three A level or equivalent qualiﬁcations, little more. As a result, the wider support offer to students has been greatly diminished.
Before my election to Parliament I was Principal of John Leggott College so I know from personal experience how keeping students busy is the best way to maximise their chances of success. Programmes of study where students have too much free time are not effective in getting the best out of them. These students are in transition from a fairly directed pre-16 learning environment to the independent learning of HE and the world of work. That transition needs to be appropriately supported.
Sadly the student experience in schools and colleges is deteriorating. Over a third of colleges have dropped modern foreign languages courses and the majority have reduced or removed the extra-curricular activities available to students including music, drama and sport.
Even more concerning two out of three colleges do not believe the funding they will receive next year will be sufficient to support students that are educationally or economically disadvantaged. So the underfunding of 16-19 education is becoming a real 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.
Grammar schools are particularly concerned about the funding of 16-19 education and increasingly raising serious concerns.
But it is not too late for the Government to wake up to its responsibility to 16-19 year olds. I am pleased to support the two modest, reasonable asks being made by ASCL, AoC and SFCA to #SupportOurSixthformers.
First the Government should use last year’s 16-19 underspend to make an immediate modest annual increase in funding of £200 per student. Secondly the Government should recognise the challenge in this area and announce a full review of sixth form funding to ensure it is linked to the realistic costs of delivering a rounded, high quality education. 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.