College and sixth form funding severely squeezed, new report reveals

Further education has seen courses closed and student support cut over the last eight years
Education Correspondent

Funding for students in school sixth forms and colleges in England has been severely squeezed over the last eight years, a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has found.

Courses have been closed, student support has been cut, and teaching provision has reduced as a result of the real-terms cuts to further education, education unions have warned.

Analysis from IFS has revealed that funding per student in sixth forms has fallen by more than a fifth (21 per cent) per student since 2010-11 – and it remains lower than at any point since 2002-03. And funding per student for 16 to 18-year-olds in further education has fallen by 8 per cent in real terms since 2010-11 – and it is now at around the same level as during the late 2000s.

The inaugural annual report on education spending from IFS concludes that funding for sixth-forms and further education has been cut more sharply than for schools, pre-school or higher education.

It finds that funding for adult education has been cut by 45 per cent since 2009-10, which has mostly been delivered through fewer adult learners taking qualifications at GCSE level or below. By 2019-20, funding per young person in further education will be at about the same level as in 2006-07 – only 10 per cent higher than it was thirty years ago.

Luke Sibieta, co-author of the report and research fellow at IFS, said: “Over the last 30 years, there have been some remarkable changes in the pattern of education spending. Spending on early education has gone from almost nothing to £3bn since the early 1990s. Spending per student in higher education has risen by nearly 60 per cent since 1997.”

He added that school spending per pupil rose by more than 50 per cent over the 2000s – although it has fallen by 8 per cent since 2010 because of cuts to local authority and school sixth form funding.

“In this context, the almost complete lack of growth in spending on further education is all the more remarkable,” Mr Sibieta said.

However, funding per pupil in primary and secondary schools is around 4 per cent below its historic high in 2015-16 – and schools face pressure from rises in staff costs and extra responsibilities.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “Parents will be horrified to learn of the damage that has been done to sixth forms and colleges by severe real-terms cuts in government funding.

“They may also wonder why the basic rate of funding for each of these students is just £4,000 compared to tuition fees at university which can be as high as £9,250. Without the additional investment that is desperately needed, more courses and student support services will have to be cut in addition to those which have already been lost.”

He added: “The government’s under-investment in 16-18 education is part of a wider picture of real-terms cuts to school funding which is putting hard-won standards at risk.”

Julian Gravatt, deputy chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “A decade of almost continuous cuts and constant attempts at reform has led to fewer adults in learning, less teaching hours for sixth formers, and inevitably a growing population which is not acquiring the skills the country needs them to have to secure prosperity post-Brexit. If government is serious about competing on the global stage once we’ve left the European Union, real-terms investment is needed, urgently.”

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said: “Each and every one of these cuts mean families and learners of all ages are denied the opportunities they deserve. This will be a disaster for both society and the economy as a whole.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Despite the difficult decisions we had to make in 2010, the schools budget was one of only two budgets protected and since then we’ve seen 1.9 million more children being taught in good or outstanding schools – an increase from 66 per cent of children in 2010 to 86 per cent now.

“Whilst we accept that there are pressures across the system we have protected base rate funding for 16 to 19 year olds until 2020, and are putting more money into our schools than ever before. We understand the pressures in Further Education, which is our wide ranging review of post-18 education and funding is looking at how the system can work better for everyone, ensuring value for money for students and taxpayers.”

The spokesperson added: “We want to continue the strong rise in academic standards since 2010 which is why we’re investing record funding in childcare, around £6bn a year by 2020, and core schools funding is increasing to £43.5bn by 2020 – 50 per cent more per pupil in real terms than in 2000.”