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Post-16 Education: Funding

Volume 654: debated on Monday 4 February 2019

1. What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on funding priorities for post-16 education in the forthcoming spending review. (908952)

The Department works closely with Her Majesty’s Treasury on the challenges that the further education sector faces. We are currently considering the efficiency and resilience of the sector and assessing how far current funding and regulatory structures enable high-quality provision.

We know that the Government want to bring in T-levels, but the funding for that is almost immediately offset by the ongoing £3.3 billion real-terms cuts for our colleges and further education. Will the Minister’s review include addressing the 38% cut in construction skills training and the 68% cut in engineering courses that have been experienced recently?

The hon. Lady is right that T-levels will bring in an extra £500 million a year when fully rolled out. I know the Construction Industry Training Board is putting a substantial amount of money into improving skills in that industry.

We certainly need more money for schools in my constituency, but does the Minister accept that funding for further education colleges has been the worst hit of all the parts of the education system? Will she give my constituents some assurances that there will be more money for Shipley College and Bradford College in the very near future?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I know the sector faces significant challenges—indeed, we had a Westminster Hall debate on the issue and I think 53 colleagues from across the House contributed to that. We are putting in £500 million of disadvantage funding and £127 million of discretionary bursary funding. Money has been going in, but I am aware of the fact that although the base rate for 16 to 19-year-olds has been protected, that still leaves the FE sector with challenges.

Staff at Lewisham College had not received a single pay increase for 10 years, despite rising living costs in London. While they were able to secure a pay deal in November, college teaching staff across the country have seen their pay fall 25% in real terms since 2009. When will austerity end for our FE teachers and students?

I am aware of the issues that the hon. Lady raises. I have to say, I am always disappointed when staff take strike action—however good the cause—because it is young people who suffer. I understand that Capital City College Group has offered a 5% pay rise. Some colleges are able to do that. I am very aware of the challenges that colleges face, but as I say, I think resorting to strike action is disappointing.

I hope to approach the Backbench Business Committee tomorrow to get a debate on funding for education, because so many colleagues across the House have the same narrative. It is vital that we look at that, especially for pupils with special educational needs. Post-16 and special educational needs are absolutely suffering and we have to look at this in the spending review.

My hon. Friend was one of those who intervened in the Westminster Hall debate. I am very aware of this issue. I visited a college a couple of weeks ago where 400 students have special educational needs. Colleges do a fantastic job. There has been a focus over the last 15 to 20 years on higher education, and it is great to see Members across the House all campaigning for their local colleges.

As 16 and 17-year-olds attract 23% less funding than pre-16 students and young people, is it not just time to raise the rate and tackle this problem?

The Raise the Rate and Love Our Colleges campaigns have been very successful and, to a large extent, led to the number of hon. Members who attended that debate to raise the issue. I will continue to raise this with the Treasury. It has to be said—I have to continue to point this out to hon. Members—that there is over £2 billion available in apprenticeship funding from 2020. It is there now. Currently, colleges are not doing that much of that apprenticeship training. I look forward to seeing them getting more involved in those opportunities.[Official Report, 12 February 2019, Vol. 654, c. 6MC.]

Will the Minister outline to the House what support is available, and will be made available, for students from disadvantaged backgrounds to remove the barriers to their participation in further education?

We have a pilot project running in five areas across the country specifically to target young people in disadvantaged areas who might be less willing to take up an apprenticeship, particularly in sectors they would not traditionally look at. We have £500 million of disadvantaged funding in the sector and £127 million of discretionary bursary funding, and there are other projects focusing particularly on apprenticeships to encourage young people who might not have thought of them as an option.

It is clear that the Chancellor has dashed FE’s hopes massively in his Budget, but the Prime Minister, when told in Prime Minister’s questions by my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) last week that FE funding was in crisis, replied complacently that he

“could not be more wrong”—[Official Report, 30 January 2019; Vol. 653, c. 811.]

MPs debating FE here recently all said otherwise. One Member said

“it is clear that funding for…16 to 19…has fallen”—[Official Report, 21 January 2019; Vol. 653, c. 20.]

Another said:

“The bottom line is that the…sector needs more money”—[Official Report, 21 January 2019; Vol. 653, c. 23.]

Those are the words of Conservative Members in that debate. Will the Minister get the Education Secretary to pledge to tell the Chancellor that increased FE funding in the spending review is his top priority, to keep at it and to not take no for an answer?

I notice the hon. Gentleman pointing his finger across the Dispatch Box. The Secretary of State is very aware—because I have not ceased to point it out to him—of the challenges that FE colleges face, and I did hear the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) raise this in Prime Minister’s questions last week. It is good to hear people across the House talking about further education, because sadly the House collectively, including under the last Labour Government, did not talk about it very much.