16-to-19 Education Funding — [David Hanson in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:09 pm on 7th September 2017.

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Photo of Mike Kane Mike Kane Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools) 4:09 pm, 7th September 2017

I have, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. There is a huge reconfiguration of training going on, and it has not been properly thought out. That puts additional burdens on colleges. He is right to highlight the point.

There is also confusion about students between 16 and 18 who do not hold a GCSE grade A* to C—or 9 to 4 with the changes that have come in this year—in maths or English. In future allocations, these students have to study maths and English as a condition of funding. Therefore, on top of other funding pressures, there is a risk that colleges will fall off a precipice. That is where we are at, and that is why there are so many Members here today. In May 2015, the Skills Funding Agency suggested that there were around 70 financially unstable colleges.

In the few minutes that I have left, I was going to talk about area-based reviews, but the former Minister, Norman Lamb, spoke very eloquently about the issues we have had with them up and down the country. In Greater Manchester, the process was ably led by the Conservative leader of Trafford Council, Sean Anstee, but these area-based reviews really had no teeth, because colleges have gone away and done their own deals with the Department for Education, even though we have gone through a huge area-based review system up and down the country. The Minister really needs to get a grip on this issue and take a good look at it, as well as taking advice about it from fine council leaders and councillors up and down the land who have struggled to do the right thing but found that the review process just did not work out.

In conclusion, post-16 education faces a perfect storm: low levels of funding per pupil; no acknowledgement of inflationary or cost increases by the DFE, as was ably pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe; the unknown impact of the apprenticeship levy; the maths and English funding condition; and a costly and potentially failed review of post-16 education. If we truly want to meet the challenges of Brexit and address the problems it will create for our economy, we must face up to the country’s skills shortage. We cannot do that by undermining our post-16 sector.

I pay tribute to every Member who has contributed today. I am afraid that I have not got round to mentioning them all, but all of them—from all parties in this House—have ably stood up for their colleges; well done to them for that.