Thousands of teachers are preparing to go on strike and stage a protest in Whitehall in March over real-terms cuts to funding for sixth-form colleges.
The National Union of Teachers (NUT) has sent an indicative strike ballot to its 4,000 members at 93 sixth-form colleges in England and Wales which are estimated to have lost about £100m since 2010. Should this be passed, as expected, it will go for a formal ballot in February.
Andrew Stone, president of the Wandsworth branch of the NUT, told The Independent on Sunday: “Sixth-form colleges serve 150,000 students, which is more than independent schools, and a third of them come from underprivileged backgrounds. We think these reforms are unnecessary and the cuts we have suffered already are squeezing the life out of a sector that’s successful.
“The cuts are having a negative effect on our students and making the working lives of our members intolerable. Over the last parliament there were 14 per cent cuts in real terms and there will be 8 per cent cuts in this one,” he added.
Last November, Chancellor George Osborne said the budget for 16- to 19-year-olds would be protected in cash terms, but this represents a cut after inflation. The Sixth Form Colleges Association found that 81 per cent of colleges had had to raise class sizes between 2011 and 2015, while 72 per cent had dropped courses.
Further Education is also being reformed to give employers and councils more say on what students are taught and the Government is running reviews of the economic and educational needs of geographic areas, which unions fear will result in mergers.
A Department for Education spokeswoman said strikes would “disrupt parents’ lives, hold back children’s education and damage the reputation of the profession”.
She added: “We recognise the importance of investing in education which is why, thanks to the difficult decisions we have taken elsewhere, we have been able to protect core 16 to 19 funding. At the same time, we have ended the unfair difference between post-16 schools and colleges by funding them per student, to ensure that all young people leave education with the skills that they need to thrive in modern Britain.”