Debate on 16-to-19 education funding

7th September 2017

Peter Aldous highlights the success of Lowestoft Sixth Form College and the exciting plans for the new East Coast College but emphasises the importance of a secure and sustainable revenue-funding framework in order that they continue to thrive.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson. I congratulate the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) on securing the debate. He is the right person to lead it, because of his distinguished career before he entered this place as the principal of a further education college.

The years from 16 to 19 are of critical importance in everyone’s life; they are the transition years between school and the workplace. If we get things right in this place, young people go on to have successful and fulfilling lives from which they and their families benefit directly—as well as society and the economy. If we do not put down the right framework, lives can be unfulfilled, society can become fractured, and the economic productivity gap widens. Proper, stable funding is the cornerstone of a good, enduring 16-to-19 education system. In Waveney, 16-to-19 education is provided at Bungay High School, Sir John Leman High School in Lowestoft, East Coast College—the former Lowestoft College, which recently merged with Great Yarmouth College—and Lowestoft Sixth Form College. Students in the area also go to East Norfolk Sixth Form College in Gorleston, in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis). All those colleges and schools produce good results, often in challenging circumstances, and staff all go the extra mile in support of their students.

I will concentrate my comments on Lowestoft Sixth Form College and East Coast College. Lowestoft Sixth Form College opened in 2011. In a short time it has been an outstanding success, owing to the great work of the principal, Yolanda Botham, and her staff. This year, maths and physics A-level outcomes have been in the top 1% nationally. East Coast College was formed earlier this year, following an area review and, under the new principal, Stuart Rimmer, some exciting plans are emerging. Those include a new energy skills centre, for which the Government have provided £10 million capital funding through the New Anglia local enterprise partnership. There are some outstanding successes. Some good initiatives are taking place and some exciting projects are planned. That said, for them to be sustainable and successful in the long term, a secure and adequate revenue-funding framework must be put in place.

As the hon. Member for Scunthorpe has shown, 16-to-19 funding is at present seriously under-resourced. When a student reaches 16, their funding drops by 20%. At current funding levels, students in England receive, on average, 15 hours of teaching and support a week. That compares with 26 hours in Canada, 27 in Singapore and 30 in Shanghai. The House of Commons Library has identified seven challenges that 16 to 19-year-olds face. They are, in effect, being squeezed on all sides. The VAT iniquity means that an average sixth-form college loses £385,000 per annum of vital income. The ability to become an academy helps to address that problem, to a degree, but it is not practical for all sixth-form colleges.

STEM subjects are vital at Lowestoft Sixth Form College, but, worryingly, research shows that 15% of sixth-form colleges across the country have dropped STEM subjects. At the present time, when the nation ?should be producing more engineers and scientists, that trend must be reversed. The Government’s T-education proposals are welcome, but are likely to cover only 25% of those in education. The solution to the problem, as the hon. Member for Scunthorpe said, is to adopt the four recommendations of the Association of Colleges, the Sixth Form Colleges Association, and the Association of School and College Leaders. I shall not go through them in detail, as he has already set them out.

Colleges are a great British success story. They deliver great results and are an important—vital—lever for social mobility, which is relevant in Lowestoft in my constituency, where there are significant pockets of deprivation. However, colleges cannot continue to perform their role if they are not properly funded. In Lowestoft there are exciting regeneration plans, with the two colleges playing lead roles. If the full potential of the plans is to be realised, 16-to-19 education funding must be put on a sustainable long-term footing.

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