Sixth form colleges are under threat with several facing closure this year because of deep cuts to their budgets, claims a new study by the Sixth Form Colleges’ Association (SFCA). A survey of England’s 93 sixth form colleges reveals that more than one in three colleges have already had to axe their language courses – while more than one in five have scrapped courses in the Stem science and maths subjects.
“The sector is now at a tipping point,” says the study. “A further reduction in funding would prove calamitous for many institutions, some would inevitably close, others would only be able to provide an impoverished educational experience to students.”
The survey, which has been seen by The Independent, reveals that 68 per cent of sixth form colleges had to axe courses this year, while 96 per cent have had to cut staff. In addition, 69 per cent have seen class sizes increase, while 71 per cent have been forced to axe extra curricular provision such as sport and drama.
The sixth form colleges are facing cuts because the Coalition Government’s pledge to retain education spending only covers five- to 16-year-olds.
Unlike schools with attached sixth forms, stand-alone sixth form colleges also have to pay VAT – to the tune of £335,000 a year.
The survey showed that the biggest casualties were German and Spanish. On extra-curricular activity, there was a reduction in sport, drama and music and 65 per cent of colleges said that support staff were now undertaking work previously done by teachers.
“This is the brutal truth,” said James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges’ Association.
“The Government is obsessed with the idea that every school and every academy needs a sixth form. This is despite clear evidence that sixth form colleges deliver better outcomes for students and do so at a lower cost to the state,” he said.
“[The] colleges have reached a point where they can absorb no further cuts to their funding.” The survey, which showed many colleges had lost a third of their budgets since the Coalition came to power, follows a report earlier this year which showed dramatic cuts were already having to be made.
It coincides with another report commissioned by the SFCA – from researchers London Economics – which says that sixth form colleges are, on average, spending £1,598 less per student than school and academy sixth forms.
The SFCA is demanding that – at the very least – ministers exempt their colleges from having to pay VAT.
The Government is insisting it has protected both school and college sixth form college budgets until the end of 2016 to help institutions plan ahead, adding that it had “ended the historic unfair difference between post-16 schools and colleges by putting them on the same rate.”
Previously, colleges had been more generously funded.
A Department for Education spokeswoman added: “Colleges are treated differently to schools when it comes to VAT because of their [different] legal status.”