Further education is the crucial but sometimes forgotten link between secondary schools and universities; it is very much the Cinderella service. It can pave the way for an excellent university career or provide the opportunity to learn the vocational skills required to enter a competitive professional field, and is just as important as secondary or higher education. We cannot afford to neglect further education and we must correct the disparity in funding.
As many colleagues have said, the national funding rate for 16 and 17-year-olds has remained frozen since 2013-14, yet we know that, as with our schools, the cost pressures on our colleges are considerable. If we do not address that, there will be a huge issue—it has already been growing year on year.
Despite that, our schools and colleges have been doing an excellent job with the resources they have. Two colleges in my constituency, Colchester Sixth Form College and Colchester Institute, are both bucking the trend. In my constituency, A-level attainment is far above the national average, which is remarkable. Huge credit deserves to go to the teachers, staff and leaders who work within our schools and colleges. However, we cannot expect this success to continue if we do not take action to address the rising costs faced by schools and colleges, and their underfunding.
Those rising costs are having an impact: 51% of colleges and schools have dropped courses in modern foreign languages; 38% have dropped STEM courses, which we know we so desperately need; and 78% have reduced student support services or extracurricular activities, with significant cuts to mental health services.