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Sixth-form Colleges (Funding)

Volume 584: debated on Monday 21 July 2014

6. What assessment she has made of the effects on performance of sixth-form colleges of funding changes since 2010. (904953)

10. What assessment she has made of the effects on performance for sixth-form colleges of funding changes since 2010. (904957)

Although sixth-form colleges have had to make a contribution to our efforts to deal with the massive budget deficit left by the previous Government, the number of students in sixth-form colleges attaining level 3 qualifications by age 19 has increased by almost 8% since 2010.

The Minister will know that recent figures show that academies have access to 35% more funding per student than sixth-form colleges, yet sixth-form colleges still have to pay VAT, insurance and capital costs, diverting money away from teaching and learning. As the Minister settles into his new job, what will he do to secure fairness in education for all young people?

Fairness is exactly what we are trying to achieve, and we want a system whereby students receive the same level of backing for their studies regardless of the institution to which they go. Despite the previous Government having had 13 years to sort out the unfairness of the school funding system, we inherited a system that was byzantine in its complexity, and it is taking us some time to work it out.

A number of sixth-form providers across Bolton have contacted me to say that the funding regulations for sixth-form colleges mean that they are under pressure to place students on additional courses to meet the minimum hour requirement, which is detrimental to those students who succeed better when they are focused on just three subjects. Will the Minister look again at the regulations that are pressurising students to follow educational pathways that are not in their best interests?

I am happy to look into any question that the hon. Lady raises, because she is a great expert in this area. I do not recognise the charge, but I am happy to look into it if she would like to send me more information.

The Minister is right to remind the Opposition that they had 13 years to put right the anomaly, but we have had four years. What is the justification for continuing for another year a funding formula under which sixth-form students at an 11-to-18 school have two thirds more funding than if they go to a sixth-form college?

The great Sir Bob—my hon. Friend—is of course so experienced in the House that he knows he has attacked Ministers for withdrawing funding from one institution too quickly, and I am sure that he has argued for damping mechanisms for any sudden effects of changes in the funding formula. There is always a balance to be struck between ensuring that the funding is fair and ensuring that no institution has the rug pulled from under it. It is a balance that we are determined to achieve.

Notwithstanding the undoubted unfairness of their funding arrangements, sixth-form colleges are the most successful institutions in our education system, with regard to both the quality of education provided and value for money. When will the Government take steps to increase the number of sixth-form colleges across the country, and would the Minister care to visit the superb Luton sixth-form college in my constituency to find out how good they really are?

I am happy to take up any invitation; as the former planning Minister, I do not get so many. I will simply say that there are more places in sixth-form colleges this year than there were in 2010. Despite the funding constraints and the need to make some difficult choices, this Government are backing sixth-form colleges.