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Sixth-Form Students: Funding

Volume 662: debated on Monday 24 June 2019

7. If he will implement the recommendation in the April 2019 Social Mobility Commission’s state of the nation 2018 to 2019 report to increase significantly the national funding rate for sixth-form students. (911511)

Mr Speaker, may I add my congratulations to you on your 10 years in the Chair? I remember fondly sitting on the Opposition Benches by your side when I was first elected and being guided by your wise advice.

I fully recognise the critical role that sixth forms play in social mobility. When I visit colleges and sixth forms, I see living examples of that. We have protected the 16-to-19 base rate until the end of the current spending review period, but I am very aware of the cost pressures on providers and of the fact that funding has not kept up with costs. We are looking closely at 16-to-19 funding in preparation for the spending review.

I welcome what the Minister said about the value of sixth-form colleges such as Wyke in Hull North, which does an enormous amount of vital work to promote social mobility and develop the skills we need for a modern economy. There were 17.5% austerity cuts under the coalition Government. If we want to put that money back into the system, why do we not scrap tax relief for the charitable status of private schools?

As I said, I am very aware of the cost pressures. Decisions such as the one the hon. Lady suggests are a matter for Her Majesty’s Treasury. There is more money available, particularly to colleges, through apprenticeships. The money spent on apprenticeships will have doubled by 2020, and T-levels will attract an additional £500 million per year when fully rolled out, but as I say, we will consider this ahead of the spending review, because I am aware that funding has not kept up with the costs.

Schools in my constituency have been arguing for more funding at every level, but they particularly want a funding settlement for 16 to 19-year-olds that represents the pressures on them. What more can be done to ensure that there is a long-term settlement, not a year-on-year settlement? Planning long term is something that schools find enormously important.

My hon. Friend raises an important point. The difficulty with managing budgets on an annual basis is that, in order to make provision and plans that are sustainable, colleges and schools often need a longer-term settlement. I am sure the Minister for School Standards and I will be raising exactly the point that she has made.

The Government’s own review of tertiary education said that there was no justification for funding 18-year-olds in sixth forms or colleges at a lower rate than 17-year-olds and recommended that the baseline be raised. Does the Minister accept that the cuts in 2013 were a big mistake?

We will be looking at all the Augar report’s recommendations very carefully. The hon. Lady raises an important point, which will be part of our considerations when we formally respond to the report.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, and congratulations.

I know that my right hon. Friend is a doughty campaigner for more further education funding, but the main estimates memorandum for 2019-20 shows that resource expenditure on further education on a like-for-like basis is falling by 3.3% in cash terms and more in real terms, and the Department for Education’s capital budget for FE is also set to decrease by 40% from £186 million to £112 million. Can she explain the reason for the reduction and its impact?

I had a delightful visit to a college in my right hon. Friend’s constituency of Harlow that does an excellent job. Many further education colleges are doing an excellent job in difficult circumstances. As I have made clear, we are aware that funding has not kept up with costs.