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Gloucestershire Business News

Further education colleges are the "forgotten sector" and facing a funding crisis

Urgent action is needed to address a funding crisis in the "forgotten sector" of education, according to the assistant principal of one of the largest further education colleges in Gloucestershire.

On the day before A-Level results are released alongside clichéd images of pupils leaping into the air holding their certificates, there are warnings that some further education colleges are struggling.

Funding for 16-18 education has not increased for seven years despite laws being passed ton make education or training mandatory until the age of 18 back in 2015.

Speaking to BBC Radio Gloucestershire this morning, South Gloucestershire and Stroud College assistant principal Liam Evans said the 16-18 age group are the "forgotten" learners.

Currently, the education budget funds secondary schools to the tune of £5,400 per pupil, while universities receive £9,000 per student. Whereas 16-18s are funded to just £4,000 per learner.

"Further Education funding rate has not increased since 2012, so in real terms it's decreased," he said.

"Combine that with the increase in running costs and in teacher pension costs that will kick in in the next year, which will be a £1 million per year additional costs.

"We're the forgotten sector. One of the only educational sectors not to have had an increase in funding.

"As a college every year we are having to look - as a norm - at cutting £2-3million per year in terms of staff and that clearly has a bad effect on staff morale.

"Every year there is that decision to make, both corporate and curriculum, in order to balance the books.

"The reality of it is, there are colleges that are looking at insolvency because of the funding crisis in further education."

A study by the London School of Economics for the Sixth Form Colleges Association last year laid bare some of the facts of the shortfall.

Put simply, pupil numbers have gone up by 6.5 per cent since 2012 while real-term funding has gone down by 22 per cent.

This has led to a shortage of teachers as budgets have needed to be balanced and the situation is only going to get worse with the rise in employer pension contributions also set to hit colleges.

Add in that it is further education colleges that are now called upon to mop up the failures of schools and the situation is only looking bleaker.

"It's also vital to understand that colleges continue to support pupils who haven't passed their GCSEs at schools," Mr Evans said.

"If colleges don't support them, we can lose the whole £4,000 of funding per learner.

"No additional hours of funding are given by the government to fund this and there are more and more pupils leaving school without their English or Maths qualifications.

"We are then being penalised for underperforming schools as well. With all this added together it's a challenging situation.

"The key thing is that we have to focus on the young people. There is talk of having people going into employment with world-class skills, but it doesn't add up.

"Not just in terms of courses, but having industry standard facilities as well.

"We have to teach the learners and give them the best experience they can get, both in terms of the teaching and the facilities they can access.

"We are saying that they need to increase the base rate of funding to £5,000 per learner and that would radically improve the quality of what we, and other colleges, are able to provide.

"But that has to happen now, it can't happen in two or three years."

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