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Post-16 Education

Volume 601: debated on Monday 26 October 2015

5. What assessment she has made of the effect of recent changes in 16-19 funding on the (a) breadth and (b) viability of post-16 education. (901766)

Since 2013-14, all 16-to-19 institutions have received a national funding rate, which we have held steady in 2015-16. We understand the financial challenges facing the sector and have therefore launched a national programme of area reviews to ensure that we have strong and sustainable institutions delivering high-quality routes to employment.

The Secretary of State said earlier that she cannot guarantee funding or protection for any one age group, but the Minister knows that the further education sector has suffered a disproportionate cut in funding over many years and the area review does not even include sixth forms in schools. When are the Government actually going to do something to protect 16 to 19-year-olds?

The hon. Gentleman is not quite right, because the regional school commissioner, who is responsible for commissioning schools in his or her area, is always going to be part of the area reviews and can bring in the perspective of sixth forms in schools, but I do not think the hon. Gentleman would think it practical to include every single school with a sixth form in the review and actually achieve a result. We are determined to achieve a result in a short space of time so that we have strong, specialist institutions that are able to provide a high-quality education.

Kingston college in my constituency has federated with Carshalton college in a neighbouring constituency. Will my hon. Friend congratulate their move to consolidate their efforts and to provide better provision for young people going into further education, and will he visit Kingston college with me?

The reason I would love to visit is that that is a model example of what the sector should be doing. It is very important for hon. Members to remember that the sector is independent: Government cannot force institutions to merge, but we can encourage them to do so and show great examples such as that outlined by my hon. Friend.

20. Wigan colleges are concerned that the Greater Manchester area review starts with the strong presumption that the merger of colleges is the only way forward. Will the Minister confirm that other ways to achieve financial stability for colleges and good outcomes for pupils will be given serious consideration if they present a strong case for that? (901784)

We are certainly open to a whole range of options. As I say, ultimately, colleges themselves will determine what they think will work best. I do not agree with the hon. Lady that somehow there is anything necessarily to be afraid of from a merger. A merger can mean that people save a whole lot of administrative and management costs, so they can actually pour more money into paying teachers to do the job that we all want them to do.

In the last Parliament, the Government cut education funding for 16 to 19-year-olds hardest of all. Today, we learn that funding allocations for colleges and schools for the 16-to-19 sector are down over £100 million so far compared with last year. The Government have given them further instability with the flawed series of area FE reviews, jeopardising colleges and their students. With this record, does the Minister have any guarantees for the spending review to secure viability for the 16-to-19 sector?

We might want to look over the channel to see what happens to an education sector when the Government are not getting a grip on spending and on ensuring a strong economy. In Portugal, schools have been closed and teachers laid off. In Greece, teachers have faced a 30% cut in their salaries. We are ensuring a strong sector that is able to educate young people for a life of work.