Ahead of my adjournment debate this evening in Parliament I have written an article for The Times.
It looks like the Conservative government might be being rumbled on its plans to cut school budgets in real terms over the lifetime of this parliament. But the nearly 14 per cent cut in real terms funding of 16 to 18-year-olds between 2010 and 2015, with a further 8 per cent erosion anticipated by 2020, is an even bigger scandal.
The average funding per sixth former is now just £4,583, 20 per cent less than the funding for each 11 to 16-year-old and 47 per cent less than the average university tuition fee.
How on earth can it be cheaper to educate 16 to 18-year-olds than anyone else? And there are inevitable consequences that mean England compares badly with its international competitors.
Research by the Institute for Education shows that English sixth-form education is “uniquely narrow and short” compared with Shanghai, Sweden, Singapore and elsewhere. Students in these systems receive between 20 and 30 hours tuition a week compared with between 15 and 17 hours in England: a part-time offer in most parts of the developed world.
Students in other leading education systems receive more tuition time and study more subjects. So it really is time for the government to wake up to this crisis before it is too late.
It should abandon its poorly thought-out ideological experiments in opening small, inefficient sixth forms — 169 between 2010 and 2015 alone.
It should stop wasting public money on a few pet projects, like free schools and UTCs in areas where there are already enough school places, and invest in the vast majority of students that are educated in those sixth forms and sixth-form colleges struggling to balance the books by dropping courses such as modern foreign languages, removing extracurricular activities, increasing class sizes and reducing student contact time as their budgets shrink.
When the prime minister talks about increasing social mobility she might want to reflect on why independent school fees rise to an average of £15,333 per 16 to 18-year-old while in the state sector it shrinks to just £4,583.
On every level — global comparisons, public-private sector comparisons and comparisons across phases — the continued underinvestment in our 16 to 18-year-olds cannot be right. It’s a scandal! It’s exactly the sort of “everyday injustice” that is in the prime minister’s gift to put right if she wants to truly build a “shared society”.