Further Education

Part of Opposition Day — [10th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 4:27 pm on 18th November 2015.

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Photo of Lucy Powell Lucy Powell Shadow Secretary of State for Education 4:27 pm, 18th November 2015

Well, there are going to be devastating things coming further down the track, as the Barnett formula will have impacts for Wales, and for Scotland as well.

Let us look at the context. First, with the budget for provision for 16 to 19-year-olds down by 14% in real terms over the last Parliament, post-16 education is at breaking point. Principals are desperate to maintain provision and parents are worried about the narrowing opportunities for their children, and this is filtering down to our young people who feel this Government do not value their education. This is not scaremongering. As has already been said, 139 chairs of FE institutions wrote to the Chancellor recently warning that further Government cuts threaten the viability of their colleges.

Already we are hearing that sixth-form colleges and FE colleges are dropping courses and reducing classes and teaching hours, and it is not beauty courses or fashion courses that are going first, as many Conservative Members want to think; it is the expensive A-level courses such as science, maths and modern foreign languages. Let us repeat that for Conservative Members: we have a Government who are overseeing the loss of A-level courses in science and modern foreign languages. What modern-day Government have ever done that?

Secondly, the raising of the participation age to 18, which we legislated for and continue to support, comes with extra pressure on institutions, with an increase in student numbers. New requirements on compulsory resits and a new A-level curriculum also further increase expectations on sixth-forms and FE colleges. During a period of such significant change, we would expect the Government to support teachers in the transition to a new system. In New South Wales and Ontario, where the minimum school leaving age was increased recently, additional resources were provided to deal effectively with the extra numbers; instead, changes in our country are taking place in the context of significant reductions, with more severe cuts on the way. That will lead to poorer outcomes through fewer teaching hours and less support.

A recent report has found that, from next year, A-level students face the prospect of being taught for 15 hours a week—just three hours a day—because of the fall in funding since 2011. And that is before we have heard the announcements in next week’s comprehensive spending review. In Shanghai, Singapore and other high-performing education systems that the Secretary of State likes to talk about, sixth-formers are taught for more than 30 hours a week. This Government are downgrading our education system to part time, leaving our young people behind their counterparts abroad in the global economic race. I think I get brownie points for mentioning the global economic race, too.

The Government’s area reviews also threaten the viability of some high-performing institutions in a sector that the Education Secretary herself has described as fragile. Yes, there are opportunities for joint working and efficiencies, but it is impossible for the area reviews not to be seen in the context of cuts to the sector, which further undermines the viability of those institutions. What is more, it is simply ridiculous to look at only half the provision and to ignore the many institutions that are in the greatest peril. Studio schools, school sixth forms, new free school sixth forms and university technical colleges are not included in the area reviews. They are the institutions that are most likely to be in danger of losing their viability, yet they are out of the mix. At the same time, the Government are content to put many high-performing and excellent colleges at risk. Our sixth-form colleges are outstanding providers of 16-to-19 education. They offer fantastic value for money by delivering strong outcomes for young people at a lower cost to the public purse than school and academy sixth forms.