The Government announced in November 2020 that funding for further education and sixth form colleges will be maintained in real terms in 2021-22. This followed an additional £400 million of funding for 2020-21. Whilst this was welcome and long overdue, it went nowhere near to closing the £1.1bn gap that had opened up in 16-19 education funding since 2010.
Funding for 16-19 year olds fell by 14% in real terms between 2010-11 and 2014-15 according to the IFS briefing note, so it was hugely disappointing when the Government announced on 25 November 2015 that 16-19 funding would only be protected in cash terms between 2016 and 2020.
This has meant that total expenditure on 16-19 education fell by 21% in real terms between 2010-11 and 2017-18, while the funding allocated to 16-19 education fell by 17% in real terms between 2013-14 and 2018-19 according to the House of Common briefing paper. The Education Select Committee has estimated that across 16–19 education funding per student fell by a full 16% in real terms between 2010–11 and 2018–19.
According to the Education & Skills Funding Agency's letter of 2018, the funding rate for students aged 16 and 17 in education in 2018-19 has been frozen at £4,000 since 2013-14, while the funding rate for students who are already aged 18 has been frozen at £3,300 since it was cut by 17.5 % in 2014. The rate needs to increase by at least £760 per student, per year to ensure that schools and colleges can continue to deliver a high quality, internationally-competitive education. In September 2019, the Government announced that it would raise the rate to £4,188 per student for the 2020-21 academic year.
The view of the Institute for Fiscal Studies is that, “16–18 education spending has clearly been the relative loser from education spending changes over the last 25 years. It experienced larger cuts in the 1990s than other sectors, smaller increases during the 2000s and is currently experiencing the largest cuts.”
London Economics found in a report for the Sixth Form Colleges’ Association that funding for 16-19 education in Sixth Form Colleges had declined by 22% in real terms since 2010/11. The cumulative impact of funding cuts since 2011 meant that by March 2019, 51% of colleges and schools that responded to a survey had dropped modern foreign language courses; 38% had dropped science, technology, engineering and maths courses; and 81% had increased class sizes.
The DfE education area review of post-16 provision from September 2015 to August 2017 resulted in several mergers of FE and sixth form colleges, resulting in fewer sixth form colleges and greater distances for students to travel.
Sixth form colleges have to pay VAT on goods and services – costing each of them about £300,000 a year – while schools and academies are reimbursed for these costs. It is arguable that this disparity is a deliberate attempt to ‘encourage’ sixth form colleges to become academies and twenty six had done so by January 2020.
School and academy sixth form funding has been cut by even more than sixth form colleges in line with the Government’s decision to remove the school/sixth form college funding gap by levelling down provision in schools. As a result, funding per student for school sixth forms fell by around 23% in real terms between 2010-11 and 2018-19.
On top of these cuts, young people aged 16-19 have had other entitlements removed. Education Maintenance Allowances for students from low-income households that totalled £560 million were replaced in 2011 with a new bursary scheme of £180 million.
Additionally, entitlement funding for activities such as tutorials, enrichment activities and additional courses was reduced from 114 hours per year to 30 hours in 2011. Sixth form colleges saw an overall reduction in funding of around 10 % due to this cut.