AN EDUCATION Minister has maintained funding for pre-16 schooling will remain a “priority” after claims that support for students at the region’s colleges is being cut due to financial pressures.
Former college principal Nic Dakin, who is now the Labour MP for Scunthorpe, has claimed that two thirds of sixth-form colleges have already shrunk their curriculum on offer, more than a third have dropped modern foreign languages courses and a majority have reduced or removed extra-curricular activities, including music, drama and sport.
He claimed John Leggott College, which he led before pursuing a parliamentary career, would have an extra £1.2m this year’s budget if it was still funded at pre-2010 levels as he called for each student across the country to be allocated an additional £200 a year.
Mr Dakin warned inflationary pressures, including employer contributions to the pensions and National Insurance of teachers and also business rates, are exacerbating a crisis which means, for example, students are not receiving help when it comes to mental health.
However, his fears were played down by Education Minister Anne Milton, who said colleges for 16 to 18-year-olds are already receiving extra resources which are allied to the advent of new technical qualifications.
“Brexit will be critical. A huge amount of work is going on to make sure that we have the skills in this country that we need,” said the Minister.
“That work is not only for the country – we always talk about the country and the economy – but actually for individuals.
“It is important that they fulfil their potential. Additional funding, rising to more than £500m per year, has already been announced to enable the delivery of T-levels when they roll out, and the first £50m will be available to the sector in 2018 to help institutions build their capacity. The extra £500m funding will mean more hours per student, and will provide support to secure those work placements.
“That will take technical courses to more than 900 hours a year, which is a rise of more than 50 per cent on the current 600 hours.
“The additional funding will benefit FE colleges, which provide most of the technical programmes, but many sixth-form colleges and some school sixth forms will also benefit.
“At a time when public finances are under considerable pressure, that represents a significant commitment to the 16-to-19 age group, in the context of the wider pressures on finances.”
She added: “My job will be to be a champion for the sector. Pre-16 school education is crucial in the success of students post-16, which is why pre-16 schooling must be a funding priority, but it does not end there.”
However, Mr Dakin said that planned investment in technical education will not begin until 2020 and that they will be too late for those young people whose sixth-form and college education is now inferior to the lessons – and opportunities – that their counterparts in other leading economies can expect.
“Things need to happen now, to support the young people in the system now, as young people only have one chance to go through the system,” Mr Dakin said, as he called for extra money to ensure education standards are preserved.
“A modest annual increase in funding of £200 per student would help schools and colleges to begin reassembling the range of support activities required to meet the needs of young people.”
Comment: Page 10; Opinion: Page 11.