Autumn Statement: Government to protect schools and college sixth-forms from future cuts

Government agrees to protect budgets for the sector in cash terms

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The Independent Online

School and college sixth-forms have been thrown a lifeline, with a rescue package aimed at protecting them from further cuts.

For the first time the Government spelt out its desire to protect funding for 16 to 19-year-olds by agreeing to protect budgets for the sector in cash terms.

In addition, the country’s 93 sixth-form colleges were told they could become academies - thus escaping having to make VAT payments averaging £317,000 a year per college.

The Chancellor’s U-turn on sixth-form funding came after warnings that projected cuts could mean the closure of up to four in 10 colleges across the country.

“The Chancellor has delivered better than expected news for sixth-form colleges today,” said James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the Sixth-Form Colleges Association.  “A further round of cuts would have had a devastating effect on the life chances of sixth-form colleges.

“And we are delighted that sixth-form colleges will have the opportunity tpo become academies - this will help to move the sector from the margins of education policy to the mainstream.”

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The pledge to maintain funding in cash terms will also help bail out further education colleges - who had feared their budgets would be devastated by cuts of at least 25 per cent.

Martin Doel, chief executive pf the Association of Colleges, said: “Today’s spending review will be a huge relief for further education and sixth-form colleges following five years of stringent budget cuts.”

Relief was also the order of the day for schools as the Chancellor upped his pledge to protect their budgets in cash terms to protection in real terms to cover the effects of inflation. Grants for schools based on the number of pupils will also be protected per pupil funding as will the pupil premium - which gives schools extra cash for taking in disadvantaged pupils.

However, teachers’ and headteachers’ organisations warned there would still be cuts - as increased national insurance and pension contributions will see costs rise above the level of inflation.

Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and Colleges, said: “It is important for people to understand that schools and colleges face substantial real-terms cuts despite the spending commitments made today.”

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton trust - the charity which campaigns for equality of access to education, added: “While the cuts may not be as much as some feared, the Chancellor’s real terms cut to further education and sixth-form studies still pose a threat to the Prime Minister’s laudable social mobility goals.

“Those cuts could harm university access by cutting opportunities for young people to study key A-level subjects and reduce second chance college opportunities.”

Yesterday’s announcement also confirmed plans for 500 new free schools in the lifetime of this Parliament.  The 500 will include an increase in the number of University Technical Colleges for 14 to 19-year-olds which aim to help students learn vocational skills like engineering.

Universal free school meals for all children under the age of seven - introduced by the coalition Government at the behest of the Liberal Democrats - have also been spared from the axe following the intervention of David Cameron.

The savings will come from axing education support grants - given to local education authorities services like school improvements - helping schools in difficulty turn themselves around.  There is a feeling that - as more schools become academies - they will turn to their sponsors or trusts for that aid.  However, the cut overall amounts to six per cent rather than the 25 per cent predicted in unprotected areas of spending.  Overall, the cut is just 1.1 per cent in real terms.

In addition, the Department for Education said the settlement allowed for doubling childcare from 15 hours to 309 hours a week for working families of three and four-year-olds.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said protecting core funding for 16 to 19-year-olds would “ensure all young people leave education with the skills they need to thrive in modern Britain”.