Future of UK's sixth-form colleges 'under serious threat' because of Tory cuts, says new report

Deputy chief executive says the sector 'cannot survive on starvation rations' and urges the Government to conduct an 'urgent review of funding' as institutions are forced to cut courses

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The Independent Online

The future of sixth-form colleges across the UK is under serious threat because of government cuts to the sector’s funding, the Sixth Form Colleges’ Association (SFCA) has said.

For its annual funding impact survey, the organisation – which represents the interests of the UK’s designated 93 sixth-form colleges – sent online questionnaires to all every college to gather perceptions on the situation of financial health and viability of their institution from next year onwards.

From the 72 who responded, 70 per cent said they do not believe the amount of funding they are likely to receive in 2016 will be sufficient to provide students with a high-quality education.

A further 83 per cent do not believe it will enable them to provide the support required by students that are educationally or economically disadvantaged.

As 96 per cent of the respondents highlighted how they were either extremely concerned or concerned about finances, no college indicated they were unconcerned or extremely unconcerned, with 36 per cent saying it was either extremely likely or likely their college will cease to be a going concern by 2020.

Deputy chief executive, James Kewin, described how the report’s findings highlighted the damage to students caused by the three funding cuts imposed on sixth-form colleges since 2011.

He added: “The sector cannot survive on starvation rations and, without more investment, sixth-form colleges will be unable to provide young people with the high-quality education they need to progress to higher education and employment.”

Mr Kewin also called on the Government to conduct an urgent review of funding across all stages of education and end the funding inequalities that exist between sixth-form colleges and school/academy sixth forms.

He said: “Particularly the absence of a VAT refund scheme that, according to our report, left the average sixth-form college with £317,964 less to spend on the front-line education of students last year.”

The survey also indicated the extent of course cuts among sixth-form colleges; 72 per cent have had to drop courses because of the three funding cuts. Another 39 per cent have been forced to drop courses in modern foreign languages – with A-levels in German, Spanish, and French being the main casualties – while almost a quarter of institutions have cut STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths).

The prediction from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers comes in the wake of a report by the Sixth-Form Colleges Associations shows many of their members are being forced to ditch languages and science A-levels as a result of the Government’s squeeze on spending.

The survey showed more than one in three colleges (36 per cent) believe it is likely that they will no longer be a going concern by the end of the decade.  Already, 39 per cent have been forced to drop modern foreign language courses - in French, German and Spanish.  Almost a quarter (24 per cent) have cut so-called STEM subjects considered vital to the future of the economy (science, technology, engineering and maths).

Last month, the Government set-out how it plans to support a restructure of the post-16 education and training sector, with the aim to help create more financial stability across the board.

In its report, the Department for Education outlined how colleges may be asked to strengthen by ‘twining’ with another institution, undertake a cost-scrutiny exercise to identify how costs can be reduced, or asked to review its position within the market.