“We are introducing in our country a situation where we uncap university places so as many people who want to go can go, and that we will be introducing, in this Parliament, 3 million apprentices. That, combined with better funded sixth forms and better funded further education colleges, means that we have actually got a proper education system that can really drive opportunity in our country.”
David Cameron, 9 March 2016
“Could I kindly bring him back to the question I asked from Callum, and point out to him that there has been a 10% cut in real terms in sixth form and further education... during his time as Prime Minister?”
Jeremy Corbyn, 9 March 2016
The government told us when the Prime Minister talked about “better funded” sixth forms and colleges he was, partly, talking about changes in the way that sixth forms and further education colleges are funded, which it says has led to “fairer” funding.
Historically sixth forms in schools were paid more per student than sixth form colleges and further education colleges. Changes brought about in the last Parliament reduced funding per student for school sixth forms to be in line with the rest of the post-16 sector, through a new national funding rate.
The government also pointed to its commitment to protect education funding for each 16 to 18 year old at the same level over this Parliament. This protection is in cash terms. So while the level of funding per student will stay the same, the value of that money will decline due to inflation.
As Mr Corbyn said, funding for sixth forms and colleges has fallen by 10% while David Cameron has been Prime Minister, after inflation has been taken into account. That covers the period from 2010/11 to 2014/15, and comes from calculations by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).
School sixth forms, sixth form colleges and further education colleges now have the same funding rate
The government said in 2010 that school sixth forms were funded on average £280 more per student than general further education colleges and sixth form colleges.
This didn’t take account of the size of the programmes of study. The government said that because students in school sixth forms took the equivalent of more qualifications on average, they got more funding per student.
To end this gap, the government pledged to bring funding for school sixth forms in line with funding for further education colleges and school sixth forms.
This meant that school sixth forms saw their funding reduced. They were offered transitional protection up to 2015, as the change was brought in.
A new national funding formula was introduced in 2013/14, which shifted funding from being paid per qualification to being paid per student.
Previously, the per qualification funding meant that a young person undertaking a large number of small qualifications would attract high levels of funding for the provider. The government said that the new system removed the incentive for providers "to enter students for easier qualifications".
Institutions with large vocational programmes or offering the International Baccalaureate, for example, were particularly affected because those accounted for multiple qualifications. The government said that no institution would see its funding per student fall for at least three years.
Funding per student will fall, once inflation is taken into account
Last autumn, the government announced that the funding that English sixth forms and further education colleges get per student will be protected in cash terms over this Parliament. That means that the base funding for full-time students aged between 16 and 17 will stay at £4,000 per student, and at £3,300 for 18 year olds.
The lower rate for 18 year olds was introduced towards the end of the last Parliament in order to reduce spending in the 16 to 19 education budget. That policy was thought to affect further education colleges in particular.
But the protection doesn’t account for inflation, so the real terms value of this particular funding will fall.
The Education Funding Agency, which manages funding given to sixth forms and colleges for 16 to 19 year old students, has said that there will also be reductions to non-core funding. It said by 2019/2020 this funding would be reduced by around £160 million.
In tandem with this, the transitional protection funding is still in place but is being phased out over the next six years.
The total effect of these changes is unclear. It will depend in part on what happens to student numbers.
Sector membership body the Association of Colleges said in response to these announcements that overall funding is “largely static”.
Funding for sixth forms and colleges fell by 10% in the last Parliament
Funding allocated to further education colleges and schools’ sixth forms for 16 to 19 year olds fell by 10% between 2010/11 and 2014/15, accounting for inflation, according to the IFS.
The National Audit Office said in a report in 2015 that the financial health of the further education sector—excluding sixth forms—had been declining since 2010/11.
It said that “Reductions and changing priorities in public funding, falling numbers of 16‑ to 18-year-olds, and more competition from schools and universities have combined to create a challenging educational and financial climate for many colleges”.