Peter Aldous speaks up for further education in Lowestoft

Peter Aldous speaks out against the proposed 17.5% cut in funding per full-time student aged 18 at the start of the academic year 2014-15 as it will disproportionately affect towns such as Lowestoft where further education and sixth-form colleges play a major role in the education of 18-year-olds.
Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Williams. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) on securing this debate.
My concern is that the funding cut will disproportionately affect those towns where further education and sixth-form colleges are playing a major role in the education of 18-year-olds. That is the situation in Lowestoft in my constituency. I am grateful to the Minister for listening to the concerns that have been raised with him in recent weeks. In this instance, I am concerned that although the Government have carried out an impact assessment of their decision, they have failed to highlight the fact that the impact of the policy is concentrated in specific locations where it will hit certain—often vulnerable—communities hard.
There are four reasons why I believe that the proposed cuts will hit Lowestoft particularly hard. First, schools in Suffolk are not currently doing as well as they should be. Lowestoft college and Lowestoft sixth-form college are doing important work to address the situation, which often involves students staying on in education or training for an extra year. As a fellow Suffolk MP, the Minister will be familiar with the need to raise standards and levels of achievement in schools across the county. A variety of measures have been put in place, by both the Government and the local education authority, to address challenges and raise standards, but they will take some time to come to fruition. In the meantime, the two colleges are playing an extremely important role which should not be undermined.
A high proportion of the students who have become disengaged while at school either need to resit GCSEs or are following a vocational course. Lowestoft college advises that only some of its students follow the traditional course of completing GCSEs at 16, doing two years at A-level and then going to university. Instead, many pursue a variety of different paths that may include, for instance, a year at level 2 followed by two years at level 3. As a result, 25% of the 16 to 18-year-old students are aged 18 at the start of each academic year. That brings me to my second point: all post-16 mainstream education in Lowestoft is provided in the two colleges and there are no other schools or colleges where students can take A-levels. That is because four years ago, when the schools moved from a three-tier to a two-tier education system, it was decided to discontinue the individual sixth forms in each high school and replace them with a single sixth-form college—a centre of excellence. That was a good idea, and it is working, but the reduction in funding could undermine much of the good work.
My third point is that in Lowestoft there is a higher than average percentage of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds living in deprived areas. Research by the Association of Colleges shows that 18-year-old learners are more likely to live in deprived areas than 16 or 17-year-old learners. There is a real worry that disadvantaged students will be hit the hardest as they are the ones who take longer to finish courses. That could have a negative knock-on effect on the number of NEETs.
Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): I declare a personal interest. I never went to university; I attended a vocational college course. Kirklees college in Huddersfield is transforming young people’s lives under the inspirational leadership of Peter McCann. My hon. Friend has rightly highlighted what colleges give post-18 learners and the challenges that they face: in my area, for example, there are pupils who have recently moved to this country, who have behavioural difficulties, who have been in care, who are pregnant or for whom English is not their first language. Will he join me in asking the Minister to reconsider the funding reduction?
Peter Aldous: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that matter. I will indeed join him in asking the Minister to reconsider the funding reduction.
Finally, it should be pointed out that larger colleges with larger budgets are better placed to handle reductions in funding; they may have more room to manoeuvre and put in place their own mitigating measures. Lowestoft college and Lowestoft sixth-form college are relatively small. Although they are performing extremely well in challenging circumstances, they are not as well placed as larger establishments to withstand the impact of such income reductions.
Mr Marcus Jones (Nuneaton) (Con): I will try to be brief. My hon. Friend is quite correct that there will be a significant funding impact for many sixth-form colleges and further education providers. Could another impact be that such institutions, including for example the excellent King Edward VI college in Nuneaton and North Warwickshire and Hinckley college, are disincentivised from taking students at age 18?
Peter Aldous: My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. It is one of a number of issues that I do not believe the impact assessment addressed.
It should also be noted that the late announcement of the decision has made it difficult for colleges to make contingency arrangements. I am grateful to the Minister for listening. For the reasons that I have outlined, I believe that the measure hits Lowestoft particularly hard. As I look around the Chamber, I realise that there are numerous such communities all over the country. In Lowestoft, we have two colleges that are playing a vital role in difficult circumstances, raising educational standards and providing young people with the skills that they need to take up a variety of opportunities. The two colleges need the resources to carry on with that excellent work, and the proposal both handicaps them and penalises 18-year-olds living in Lowestoft, where there are no school sixth-form colleges for them to attend.

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Peter holds regular surgeries at various locations in the constituency. Please call 01502 586568 to make an appointment.

Next Surgeries - 2018: 
Lowestoft, Wednesday 8th August



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