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Sixth-form Colleges: Funding

Volume 641: debated on Monday 14 May 2018

We have protected the 16-to-19 funding base rate until 2020 to make sure that every young person can access an excellent education. There are also the 16-to-19 bursary funds, which can be used to help disadvantaged students meet the costs of participation, including transport costs, and of course there will be an extra £600 for every additional student taking level 3 maths.

That is not the reality in my community. To me, it is unjustifiable to provide £50 million for grammar schools when Wolsingham School, in the heart of rural Weardale in my constituency, has been forced to suspend its sixth form, which means that young people may have to travel up to four hours for access to post-16 education. The issues are inadequate per-pupil funding combined with historical debt from years of cuts and the failure of the funding formula to allow for smaller pupil numbers owing to rurality, not a lack of grammar school places. Will the Secretary of State please come to Weardale, and will the Minister also look into this case with urgency and provide some assurance to young people, teachers and parents in Weardale that they will have a sixth form come September?

I know that the hon. Lady met my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and that the Department for Education is working closely with Durham. The Secretary of State will keep closely in touch with her, because I appreciate that her concern is about the learners in her constituency.

First, may I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the excellent work that she is doing in this area? Is she aware that the absolutely first-class sixth-form college in Haywards Heath is now closed, in an area where there is a desperate need for a sixth-form college to cater for the ambitions and the further education of many young people coming out of our local schools? Will she do her very best to work with us, Mid Sussex District Council, West Sussex County Council and the local universities to put together a really original idea to reopen Haywards Heath sixth-form college?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. Indeed, I was at school on that campus. [Hon. Members: “Ah!”] It was a grammar school then. The Department for Education is working very closely with others on the matter, and I have to say that not only my right hon. Friend’s input but that of the district council has been brilliant. I would dearly love to see an innovative and a really groundbreaking project on the site.

If the Minister is to get to the heart of these things, she must come to Huddersfield and see that we have not only two excellent sixth-form colleges but a further education college. We need all those facilities to be as good as they can be, but at the moment all of them are struggling under financial cuts.

I look forward to visiting the hon. Gentleman’s constituency at the earliest opportunity. I am spread rather thinly, and there are many colleges for me to get round. [Interruption.] I missed a football match yesterday.

Well, Mr Speaker, I know quite a lot about sixth-form colleges and FE colleges, although I am due a visit to the hon. Gentleman’s, and a great deal less about football, so I will not be drawn into making a comment.

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point: having sixth-form colleges, further education colleges, independent training providers and higher education institutes all working together is how we can raise standards to the levels that we all want to see.

In both educational performance and value for money, sixth-form colleges are the most successful institutions in our education system, so when will the Government fund existing colleges properly and take steps to establish many more sixth-form colleges across the country?

We are looking at the resilience of the FE sector across the board to ensure that it is as efficient and effective as possible. Learners are at the heart of all that, as we want to ensure that young people have all the opportunities possible. Sixth-form colleges do a brilliant job, and I am looking forward to visiting Godalming College on Friday.

On the subject of resilience, how long does the Minister think it is sustainable for 16 to 18-year-olds to be funded 21% less than those who are 16 and under, and 48% less than university students?

The hon. Gentleman is a doughty campaigner in this area; we have had many debates across the Chamber on the issue. There is a post-18 review under way, and we are looking at the resilience of the FE sector. What matters is that we ensure that every learner, whichever route they choose to take—further education or training through an apprenticeship—has the best possible training and education.

My local side Ashton United, who do a lot with local schools, were promoted recently.

Funding for 16 to 19-year-olds has been frozen or cut every year since the formula was set in 2013. Will the Minister confirm that the real-terms cut to the base rate for 18-year-olds will be more than £1,000 per pupil by 2020? The Secretary of State can find £50 million a year for grammar schools, but what can he offer the sixth forms reaching crisis point?

Once again I will not be drawn on football, I am afraid.

As I pointed out to the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), there is a post-18 review going on, and we are looking at the resilience of the FE sector, which includes sixth-form colleges. Opposition Members are banging their knees, but I am very aware of the funding pressures. I praise all those teaching in the sector, as they are doing an excellent job. There is more money available, including the additional £600 per person per annum for maths and the bursary funds that I mentioned. I have heard the hon. Lady’s point, and I am aware of the excellent job that sixth forms do with quite constrained finances.