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Further Education (Funding)

Volume 573: debated on Monday 6 January 2014

6. What plans he has for future funding for students in the further education sector; and if he will make a statement. (901743)

We announced the 16-to-19 funding policy changes for the academic year 2014-15 last month, and we will confirm the allocation of funding for individual institutions by the end of March.

Oldham sixth-form college and Oldham college were notified, without any consultation, that their funding would be cut by 17.5%. That has a devastating impact on young people in our area and it is anticipated that 700 young people in Oldham will be affected. Long-term youth unemployment in Oldham has more than doubled since November 2010, and we know that the national figure is 1 million people. Given the Prime Minister’s pledge that our young people should “earn or learn”, is this move not another example of this Government’s hypocrisy?

Not only are unemployment and youth unemployment falling—thankfully—from the very high levels we inherited from the Labour party, but we have had to make savings in the 16-to-19 budget. We think it is fair to make this change affecting those who have already had two years of post-16 learning; many 18-year-olds in full-time education do not study as many hours as 16 or 17-year-olds. I also say to the hon. Lady that her Front-Bench colleague, the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), said on television earlier that she wanted the deficit to fall faster. I am not sure that she got the memo from the shadow Chancellor, but Labour has opposed every single cut, no matter how difficult.

College principals from around Southampton have been keen to emphasise the valid reasons why 18-year-olds may need an additional year at sixth form, which include ill health, their possibly suffering from disabilities, and, of course, the need to improve GCSE results so that they can go on to study their A-levels. What reassurance can the Minister give me that these young people, who are in need of the most support, are not going to be penalised? They are the most at risk of becoming NEETs—those not in education, employment or training.

When my hon. Friend sees the impact assessment, I think that she will be reassured on some of those points. As I have said, this is a difficult decision and not one that we will take lightly, but the alternatives are also difficult, and 18-year-olds have already had two years of study post 16 and, indeed, they often study for fewer hours than 16 to 17-year-olds. I look forward to discussing with her, once we have published the impact assessment, exactly why that decision was made.

I am afraid that the Minister has not answered the point that the hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) raised. Some 71% of the over-18s in further education are on vocational courses and they are often the people who need a second chance and additional support, yet he is cutting funding for them by 17.5%. Why is he hitting those who need support?

As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), once the hon. Gentleman sees the impact assessment he will be able to have a full view of the value of the policy.

I was looking for Dr Huppert. He popped up a moment ago but has popped down again. Never mind. We will accommodate him on some other occasion.

My experience of the Banbury and Bicester job clubs is that young people who have dropped out of education or training often find it difficult to get back into education and training. Can my hon. Friend reassure me that those youngsters who have been NEETs but want to get into further education will be given support to do so?

Of course. The massive expansion of apprenticeships and the introduction of traineeships were designed to do precisely that. There is a huge focus on ensuring that those who are in education and those who are NEET get the opportunities to fulfil their potential. Raising the participation age is another part of the plan for dealing with the problem. There are many policies designed to have that effect. The changes across the piece are all about ensuring that, within the funds available, we give everybody the best possible opportunity.