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House of Commons Hansard
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Equality of Funding: Post-16 Education
25 February 2020
Volume 672

[Philip Davies in the Chair]

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I beg to move,

That this House has considered equality of funding for post-16 education.

I am delighted to have secured this debate on the funding of post-16 education. I will focus on the critical phase of 16-to-18 education, which has been described by the Institute for Fiscal Studies as

“the big loser in the changes to education funding over the last 25 years.”

The IFS calculates that funding for 16 to 18-year-olds is now 6% lower than funding for students in secondary schools, having been 50% higher at the start of the 1990s.

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When I did my A-levels, I had a full timetable. I reckon that we now fund two and half days’ tuition. Is that enough? If we consider it to be enough, should we not acknowledge that A-levels are part time and expect people to go out to work? I do not think that is realistic.

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I agree that it is not realistic to expect A-level students to go out and work when they should be studying, although a part-time job during A-levels is always positive. I had one myself, and it does grow the person. I will come on to the fact that we are now effectively funding part-time study rather than full-time study.

In this debate, I will focus on the pathways that the vast majority of 16 to 18-year-olds follow: academic pathways through A-levels and the general applied pathways, mainly through BTECs. Technical education has dominated the debate over the past few years. It is a very important area of development and is now the subject of a lot of necessary focus and reforms. What has lacked focus, reforms and money are the A-level pathways and, as I said, the BTEC pathways.

Academic and applied general qualifications are delivered in the main by three institutions: sixth forms in schools, sixth-form colleges that are separate from schools, and general further education colleges. Along with specialist colleges and training centres, they make up the vast majority of the FE sector. I therefore hope that the Minister will focus on those pathways and not on T-levels, which we have debated previously in this place.

Since 2010, the pressure on 16-to-18 education has increased significantly. The coalition Government made the right decision to protect the education budget, but that applies only to students up to 16 years of age. That means that 16-to-18 education has shouldered the burden of the cuts that had to be made in the Department for Education. The three deep cuts to funding, combined with significant increases in running costs, mean that the purchasing power of 16-to-18 funding has declined sharply over the past decade.

I will come on to the impacts that the disproportionate funding arrangements have had on students and institutions, but first I want to highlight two key issues that must be addressed if we are to ensure that the education of the 1.1 million 16 to 18-year-olds in England is properly resourced.

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I think the hon. Member would acknowledge the very welcome recent funding announcement in this area. Peter Symonds College is in my constituency; it is one of the largest sixth-form colleges in England and has had a 30% increase in student numbers over the past decade.

Although the funding announcement is welcome, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree that it is a long way short of what the Raise the Rate campaign asked for. More pertinently, the one-year stopgap funding settlement is the problem. The sector now needs—we are looking to the spending review for it—a much longer-term settlement, so that it can undertake strategic planning.

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Quite right. I will come on to three things: sufficiency, equality and parity. Sixth forms are particularly disadvantaged in the current system, and we need to start fixing these things.

Fundamentally, the funding that sixth forms in schools, colleges, academies and sixth-form centres in general FE receive to educate 16 to 18-year-olds is not sufficient to provide the high-quality education that young people need, and that the economy needs to prosper. Cuts to courses, support staff and extra-curricular activities mean that sixth form, by which I mean academic education and general education in England, is now a part-time endeavour for many students. Although a calculation based on part-time education in technical training may have made some sense in the past—such students spend significant amounts of time in the workplace or another training location—academic and general vocational education has never had that component, and all learning time is spent in the institution. The institution therefore needs the resources for that to happen.

The only way to address the key issue of sufficiency is to increase the national funding rate, which is by far the biggest element of 16-to-18 funding. It is extraordinary that the rate for 16 to 18-year-olds has remained frozen at £4,000 per student since 2013, whereas the rate for 18-year-olds who enter their third year of study—often the young people who require the most help—has fallen to £3,300.

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I congratulate the hon. Member on securing the debate and making a very important contribution in his opening remarks.

Does he agree that a significant issue faces many further education colleges: some of them are left to pick up the pieces when young people do not have the numeracy and literacy skills that we would hope for by the time they are 16? The current underfunding and lack of funding for further education in such colleges is particularly impacting on the life chances of that group.

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Exactly. That is why the cut to the third year of funding is particularly pernicious. A young person who comes in might need some extra support for a year before they can move on to their final stage of BTECs or A-levels, and the college is actually punished for doing that remedial work.

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I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate.

Does the perniciousness not work in two ways? Teachers in my constituency have pointed out that they are punished in terms of funding, and that the results they achieve for those students do not count towards their post-16 results.

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Yes, it does. I hope the Minister will address that point.

I pay tribute to the work of the Sixth Form Colleges Association in co-ordinating the Raise the Rate campaign, which has been highly effective. As has been mentioned, the Government have responded by pledging an increase of £188 this coming September. That is still far below the £4,700 per student that Raise the Rate is asking for, and it is £822 below the £5,000 that schools receive for each pupil.

That brings me to the second key issue: equality. Young people are now required to participate in education and training until the age of 18, but education funding is reduced for students who have reached 16. This inequality is impossible to defend. It is worth noting that, in the independent sector, fees usually increase at the age of 16 to reflect the additional cost needed to train and educate 16 to 18-year-olds.

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The Yorkshire College of Beauty Therapy is in my constituency. It is suffering from the fact that the new T-levels in the relevant subjects are being introduced but are not yet ready. The whole area of vocational education is suffering from the same lack of sufficiency that my hon. Friend describes for academic subjects.

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My hon. Friend is quite right. We have debated T-levels previously, and there is the difficulty of transition as we go forward. I hope that we will eventually get to a situation where we have A-levels; good general vocational training, with BTECs continuing as a strong component of that; and T-levels. They all offer something different and important.

Until 2011, the funding for a student at a sixth form in a school continued at the school rate, not at the college rate. Given the concerns about the inequality that that caused, there was quite rightly a campaign. Organisations such as the Institute for Public Policy Research said that we needed to equalise the funding. The Government did that but they equalised it down, meaning that we took away about £800 per pupil in today’s terms from the budget, rather than adding to the college budget. That hurts sixth-form colleges even more, as they generally pay teachers’ terms and conditions and do not get additional remuneration for it. For many years, general FE colleges have got away with underpaying their staff, or rather, the Government have got away without giving them additional resources.

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Will my hon. Friend comment on the impact on the availability of science, technology, engineering and maths subjects and modern language courses, as well as on our competitiveness? The 15 hours per week contact time compares very poorly with, for example, the 25 to 30 hours per week in Canada, Singapore and elsewhere.

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My hon. Friend is quite right; that is very worrying. A headteacher in my area talks about the difficulty of recruitment into the sector when there are far better options for pay within the wider teaching sector, let alone the idea that teachers of STEM subjects can often get better pay elsewhere. That seems wrong.

With the Budget and a spending review looming, the Government’s short-term priority should be to raise the rate, but the long-term ambition must be to level up funding and undo the mistake of 2011 to ensure that 16 to 18-year-olds receive the same investment in their education as younger students. There is little point in investing heavily in pre-16 education and even more heavily in higher education at £9,000 per student—depending on current moves in the HE review—if the pivotal stage in the middle continues to be overlooked and underfunded.

Sixth-form colleges and general FE colleges also face a number of specific disadvantages that exacerbate the issue. For example, since incorporation, colleges cannot reclaim their VAT costs, but schools and academies can. The Sixth Form Colleges Association estimates that the average sixth-form college has to redirect around £350,000 per year—4% of their income—away from frontline education of students to pay the VAT “learning tax”. What sits behind that and many other funding inequalities is the inexplicable decision to classify colleges as private sector bodies. Even private schools and private sixth-form colleges are not classified in such a way because they are third sector charities

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My hon. Friend is making a passionate speech. I would add to his list another disadvantage to colleges. Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College was in massive arrears. The current principal, Karen Redhead, has turned it around towards being back in the black again, but the insolvency regime promises to punish her even further, while other people are being bailed out for not managing things as well as she has. Will my hon. Friend comment on that?

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We need to look at those issues, particularly the way that we manage debts linked to buildings, which has got a lot of colleges into trouble in the past.

For sixth-form colleges in particular, the vast majority of their income comes from the Government, and a private sector classification is simply impossible to justify. A few years ago, the Government allowed a pathway for sixth-form colleges to become academies, but it is not right that the Government require a change of governance in the organisation for it to be classified as part of a particular tax band, rather than working out the best governance for the institution to give the best education, which is what we should focus on.

All colleges suffer when the Government decide to exclude them from initiatives such as early career payments, or funding streams such as the teachers’ pay grant, which was afforded to schools. Their incorporation in 1983 by the then Secretary of State, Keith Joseph, removing them from local authority oversight—a historic mistake that has led to a widening of the gap since the 1990s. Only the equalisation of structures across the board will solve the problem.

Brighton, Hove & Sussex Sixth Form College—or BHASVIC—is one of the sixth-form colleges in my constituency. It has grown by 630 students since 2014, but its income has grown by £1.5 million only, meaning that the student body is up by 21.7% but the income is up by 13% only. The principal of BHASVIC wrote to me saying that

“Whilst the additional income for 2020-21 is welcome, it barely makes up for inflationary cost pressures over the last couple of years”.

BHASVIC will use the money simply to plug the gap, rather than actually investing in IT, teacher development and other things that are needed, particularly for student wellbeing—colleges also face the burden of rising rates of mental health problems.

BHASVIC is one of the lucky few. It has been able to bid and draw from a limited pool of funding for capital works on academies. Unlike school sixth forms, colleges do not hav a dedicated pot of money and must bid against academies for building and maintenance. For general FE colleges, it is even more complicated in that they have to bid with local economic partnerships for funding. The myriad capital funding streams to pay for buildings leads to a lack of joined-up thinking and a postcode lottery of facilities in our education system.

The views of education providers, teachers and principals are unanimous: the funding gap has a devastating impact and is felt widely. When I secured this debate, the House of Commons digital engagement team posted on Facebook asking for feedback from students and staff. Abi, one of the respondents, said that her sixth form cannot even afford basic items such as extension cables for computers, and teachers are having to pay out of their own pockets for printing. That is totally wrong. A Reddit user said that A-level politics was dropped midway through their course because the teacher left and the school could not afford a new specialist in the department. Another student reported that their college has had to shut its canteen, which it cannot afford to maintain, so students now eat at the fast-food joints across the road, blowing out of the water any aspirations for healthy living and eating.

One way colleges have tried to manage those difficulties is through a flurry of mergers into super colleges in an attempt to pool costs or recreate the services that the local education authority provided before 1993, but such mergers often mean a centralising of course provision in just one or two campuses across the network, and lead to teachers and management being further away from the students and communities they serve. I do not want to say anything bad about any individual colleges—many have staff who do fantastic work—but the mergers render the Ofsted regime not fit for purpose. Multi-academy trusts are inspected per campus, but for a multi-campus set of FE colleges, there is only one inspection, so we have no idea of the differences between two campuses offering the same courses and options. That lack of granularity renders the Ofsted inspections almost worthless.

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On the point about mergers, the Dinnington campus college recently merged with the RNN Group in Rotherham. Since then, it has had problem after problem. Currently, it is slated for closure, which would have a devastating effect on my constituents. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that some mergers do not take into account some important aspects of colleges, such as location, teaching and staff, and that we need to ensure that colleges such as Dinnington campus remain open?

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I totally agree. I was on the board of the corporation at one college that merged into a sixth-form college. I was one of the few corporation members who voted against that merger. I am afraid that sixth-form college has not prospered since the merger. I have been involved in other colleges that have merged. In Haywards Heath, just north of my constituency, the sixth-form college did not prosper following a merger into general FE and ended up shutting. The initiative has led to a number of campuses suffering and shutting and, although it has been successful in other areas, its record is not good enough, with a number of failures.

To solve the problem, will the Minister commit to sufficiency, to ensure that schools and colleges can continue to deliver a high-quality, internationally competitive education? The Government need to raise the national funding. There is no justification for a funding cut at the age of 18. The rate should be at least £4,760 per student per year in 2020, and it needs to increase in line with inflation in the rest of the sector. Will the Government ensure that providers of sixth-form education can operate on an equal basis and a level playing field by removing the imposition of VAT learning tax and allowing them access to all the funds available to other education providers?

I will end by asking the Minister three questions sent to me by the head of the other sixth-form college next to my constituency. First, Phil Harland, the principal of Varndean, said that by 2025 the number of Brighton and Hove 16 to 18-year-olds wishing to continue post-16 education will have increased by 500. Similar increases are expected elsewhere across the country. Without any additional buildings, the city and the college sector more generally will not be able to accommodate those students. Will the Minister confirm that his Department is working with colleagues in the Treasury to secure a dedicated post-16 capital expansion fund for those colleges to draw on when their numbers increase?

Secondly, the three Brighton and Hove college principals met the city’s chief executive just before half-term to talk about the growing mental health crisis. The meeting was helpful in finding ways forward, but all parties recognise that without additional funding dedicated to support the mental health and wellbeing of students in that vital period, little progress will be made. Is the Minister aware of the problem, and does she recognise that dedicated resources for in-house counsellors are needed, so that nothing is taken from teaching budgets?

Thirdly, the sixth-form college sector was identified by a previous Minister as the jewel in the crown of the UK’s education system. That jewel might have dulled slightly in recent years, caused in part by the difficulty of recruiting teachers to the sector. The difference between school teachers and college staff is increasing. The School Teachers Review Body is an independent body that sets the level of school teachers’ annual pay awards. The Government usually accept the recommendations and fully fund them, but they do not fund pay in the college sector. Will the Government commit to fund the STRB increases for colleges as well, so that they can pay their staff properly?

This year, 2020, is the year to raise the rate to at least £4,760 per student and to level up funding between different stages of education. Within 16-to-18 education itself, I hope that the Minister will agree that we need to invest in our college sector.

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Due to the number of people seeking to catch my eye, I will impose an immediate time limit of five minutes on speeches. I might have to revisit that downwards, but I will start with five minutes and see how we go.

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It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) on his wide-ranging comments and thoughts and on the feedback from his local sixth-form colleges about this subject. I also congratulate him on having secured this important debate.

I have just been elected co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on sixth-form education, and very much to the forefront of my mind are the staff and students of Huddersfield New College and Greenhead College, which serve my constituents. In fact, none of my schools has sixth forms, but I have two sixth-form colleges, and both provide outstanding sixth-form education.

If you will indulge me for about 30 seconds, Mr Davies, I would like to highlight those two colleges. In August last year, 34 students from Greenhead College met their offer to study at an Oxbridge university. Based on the Department for Education school and college performance tables published in January last year, Greenhead College is the best performing sixth-form college in Yorkshire and one of the best such colleges in the country. The college claimed top spot in the prestigious Sunday Times “Parent Power” list back in 2014.

Meanwhile, Huddersfield New College also provides outstanding education. Last year, it was shortlisted for the prestigious Tes further education sixth-form college of the year award for the third year running. Last year, too, students achieved record-breaking results, confirming Ofsted’s judgment that learner outcomes at the college are outstanding. Also last year, the college was crowned the Tes national sixth-form college of the year—the Tes awards, of course, celebrate the extraordinary commitment, quality and innovation shown by teachers and support staff across the UK.

This debate is to highlight the campaign for improved education funding for the 1.1 million 16 to 18-year-olds across England. As the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown clearly demonstrated, the narrow funding rate for 16 and 17-year-olds has been frozen at £4,000 per student per year since 2013. Funding for 18-year-olds was actually cut to £3,300 in 2014, at a time when running costs have increased. That has put huge financial pressures not just on my local colleges but, I am sure, on the local colleges of all the Members present.

Last year, the Government made the welcome announcement that they will raise the rate to £4,188 per student by this year. That was a welcome first step but, as we heard, the Raise the Rate campaign is making a strong case for funding of £4,760 per student. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) said, there is very much a need for a long-term settlement for sixth-form education for at least the length of this Parliament.

In addition to the rate, our sixth-form colleges need support with updating college estates. On top of the asks made of the Minister by the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown, may I call on the Government to commit to a capital expansion fund for FE and, in particular, my sixth-form colleges?

Unlike schools and academies, as we heard, sixth-form colleges are not eligible for the teachers’ pay grant, even though they have the same workforce pay rates as almost every 16 to 19-year-old academy. My colleges are ambitious in providing outstanding sixth-form education for local students, and I have clearly demonstrated how both Greenhead College and Huddersfield New College do that. In another ask from me, and to reiterate what we have already heard, will the Minister please look at the VAT rebate? That is important.

Finally—so other Members may have a say—school funding was a big feature of the general election campaign. Higher education featured heavily in the 2017 campaign and was looked at in the Augar review. We hope that the debate this afternoon highlights the value of sixth-form colleges. As we approach the Budget on 11 March, we call on the Government to raise the rate.

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle).

I am always happy to speak up for my outstanding sixth-form colleges and to praise their achievements, but I also need to raise their issues. Peter McGhee, the head of St John Rigby College, puts their problems much better than I ever could. He says that we have outstanding provision in Wigan for school leavers, thanks to years and years of hard work dedicated to the needs of the young people in the community, but that is under threat due to chronic underfunding.

Peter is constantly in the difficult position of deciding between increasing the workload of staff members, who are paid £7,000 less on average than those in schools, reducing staff numbers, or restricting maintenance and equipment. What his college did was to restrict the maintenance and investment in equipment, despite the growth in student numbers. It prioritised teaching and staffing, and the essential support services that we hear so much about, because those enable students to learn successfully. However, it is now essential for the head to invest in equipment and in the estate. I support the need for some fund that colleges can make bids to, because they are now considering previously unpalatable decisions.

St John Rigby College is looking at the “Future Pathways” options, which inspire the next generation of scientists, leaders and teachers, and provide exceptional opportunities for young people to explore career options. However, they are not funded, and something has to give. In my area, where many young people traditionally have low aspirations, if those doors are closed, there will just be a further decline in the number of graduates, and young people’s horizons will be limited, just as we should be encouraging them to move forward.

Peter says that the marginal increase in rate will do little to address the years of catch-up investment needed, never mind the opportunity to provide exciting unfunded enrichment programmes, to forward plan or to provide the facilities and investment that young people in Wigan richly deserve. The wider community loses out too. This community college meets the needs of the wider community because it has weekend community sports provision, but that is desperate for investment. Winstanley College has not been able to offer German A-level for the past couple of years. Every year, it pays £200,000 to the Government in VAT.

I want to finish with some questions and comments, not from me, but from someone much better placed to speak about this issue—the principal at St John Rigby, who said:

“Why are we presenting our college leaders with such unpalatable decisions? Why do they have to decide each year on getting rid of the next ‘best worst option’? These colleges function as a whole package for our young people, educating the whole person, providing a college experience which transforms lives. We can dilute this experience no more. We must invest in the futures of our young people and we must put their educational experience at the heart of this investment.”

Hearing such heartfelt questions and comments from a dedicated professional who has spent his life working to benefit young people, and who heads a college designated as outstanding, will the Minister not agree that it is time to raise the rate?

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) on securing the debate.

In my constituency, post-16 education is provided at East Coast College in Lowestoft, which incorporates Lowestoft Sixth Form College, Sir John Leman High School in Beccles, and Bungay High School. Lowestoft Sixth Form College has had to contend with the inequalities mentioned: the inability to reclaim VAT and ineligibility for both the teachers’ pay grant and early career payments. At East Coast College, there have been some significant recent investments, including the opening last November of the energy skills centre and the subsequent launch of the eastern civil engineering and construction campus at Lound, between Lowestoft and Yarmouth.

Those initiatives are extremely welcome and vital to the future of the area, but to be successful, revenue funding must be set at a realistic level, so that the college can deliver a high-quality competitive education. The sixth forms at St John Leman High School and Bungay High School both provide high-quality A-level education, with many students going on to top universities. However, it is a continual challenge to operate sixth forms that serve large rural catchment areas.

The increase in the 16-to-18 funding rate announced last September, from £4,000 to £4,188 per student, is welcome. However, it is only one step in the right direction. I fully support the Sixth Form Colleges Association campaign for the rate to be increased to £4,760.

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It seems perverse that children up to the age of 16 will receive one figure and young people beyond that will receive another, and that schools can claim back VAT on costs but colleges cannot. Does my hon. Friend agree that, if nothing else, the Government should look at those two things and ensure that there is equality for FE and secondary schools?

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I agree with my hon. Friend. A number of issues need to be raised, but those two appear to come out above all else.

The proposed rate increase has been endorsed by both London Economics and the Select Committee on Education. It will enable schools and colleges to provide high-quality education and training, and also the necessary support services, extracurricular activities, work experience and mental health support.

In my constituency, the increase is vital for three reasons. First, it will improve social mobility. Education from 16 to 18 is the bridge between school and the rest of one’s life, which may include further and higher education, before moving on to the workplace. If it is not properly funded, and a great gulf remains, many young people will face a struggle to realise their full potential. That is not only a grave social injustice, but means that the UK’s productivity gap will remain stubbornly in place.

Secondly, there is a need for economic regeneration in Lowestoft. To achieve that, some important developments are being put in place—not only the energy skills centre, but the redevelopment of the offices and laboratories of the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science at Pakefield, and Scottish Power’s new operations and maintenance base. Investment in buildings and infrastructure is vital, but for those initiatives to be fully successful, we must invest in our young people.

Thirdly, it is important to have in mind the particular challenges in coastal communities. There is a need to go that extra mile to overcome the obstacles that have become deeply embedded in so many seaside towns. That is a vital element of levelling up that must not be overlooked.

I am afraid that 16-to-18 education has been overlooked for too long. In the post-Brexit economy, there will be no hiding place. It is vital that we raise our game. A good way to do that is to raise the rate to £4,760.

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I thank the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) for securing this debate. It is focused on post-16 education in England and, as a Northern Ireland MP, I do not have a role to play in it, but I want to offer the Minister some observations and a wee bit of perspective from Northern Ireland, to give a flavour of where we are. She will not have to answer the questions that I bring to her attention, because education is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland, but the issues are none the less important, and are certainly a UK-wide problem.

Let me thank the Library for the background information it has provided. Analysis published by the Education Policy Institute in May 2019 showed that funding per 16-to-19 student fell by 16% in real terms, from £5,900 to £4,960. That is twice the rate at which all school spending fell from 2009-10 to 2017-18. Funding per 16-to-19 full-time equivalent student in the FE sector fell by 18% in real terms, from £6,250 to £5,150. The fall was 26% in school sixth forms, from £6,280 to £4,680. Even more worrying, funding for student support, including bursaries to learners aged 16 to 18, fell more than other funding streams, by 71% in real terms. Funding for programme delivery decreased by 30%, while disadvantaged and high-needs funding combined grew by 68%.

As a Northern Ireland MP, looking at the information in front of us, I have to draw the conclusion that others have drawn: the figures are simply shocking and are replicated throughout the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We have held debates in which it has been highlighted that there are pockets of young men in this country who are unemployed and have no qualifications. Clearly, the root of the issue is inadequate funding of schools, and post-school funding is woeful. It is little wonder that young men and women cannot find anything to excel in—there is funding only for the bare essentials. That, along with the changes to apprenticeship funding, makes it clear that young men are being failed by the system.

In Northern Ireland, there is an abject failure of the education system to help young Protestants aged 16 to 19; they fail to get educational qualifications and apprenticeships, and society lets them down. I have been in touch with the Minister, Peter Weir, a colleague and friend who is a Member of the Legislative Assembly for Strangford, to see whether we can bring in the changes that we need. It is quite clear that we have to address that issue in Northern Ireland; we need to give people focus, vision and hope for the future. That is what I want to see.

This debate is about the fact that people are failing to be given the hope, vision, incentives and opportunities they need. The figures I cited show that it is not just young men being failed; put simply, it is any young person who does not have the desire or the ability to continue academically on the pathway from A-levels to university. How could that happen? How have society and the Department for Education allowed themselves to undo years of understanding that succeeding does not simply mean getting good A-levels and that there is not just one route for people to take to further education and their dream job?

Importantly, the Sixth Form Colleges Association states in the concluding paragraph of the information it provided for the debate:

“The post-Brexit economy will be driven by leaders, scientists, technicians, engineers and others who will all pass through the pivotal phase of 16 to 18 education, so we must ensure that funding is both sufficient and equal.”

We must be up to that challenge in relation to Brexit.

The Minister and the Government must take a real, sincere look at why funding has so consistently been cut and why these particular young people are worth less investment. They are not. We need that perception to change, and that can happen only through enhanced funding. I say with the greatest respect that we can accept no excuses from the respective Ministers. We must accept only change for young people. I look to see whether that change will come from this place and whether it will spread into a United Kingdom-wide system that invests in every young life equally, as it should.

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) on securing this crucial debate.

Our children and young people are being let down by their Government yet again. Education funding for 16 to 18-year-olds has been slashed by the Tories since 2010. At the same time, the costs of teaching have soared and the needs of students have become much more complex. Research by London Economics shows that the Government have presided over a 22% decline in sixth-form funding since 2010, with a further pointless cut for 18-year-olds.

My constituency is home to some high-performing sixth forms, such as Featherstone High School, Dormers Wells High School, Elthorne Park High School and Villiers High School. Like so many other schools across the country, they have worked under tremendous financial pressure to deliver for our young people. With the population of 16 to 18-year-olds expected to grow in the next few years, it is vital that schools in my constituency are given the capacity they need to continue their great work.

Further education is a critical point in the life of a young person, whether they live in my constituency or in any other part of the country, and it provides many with the education and training they need to go on to skilled work or university. Although the Government have rightly required young people to continue their education until the age of 18, they have overseen swingeing cuts to further education. The Government’s drastic funding cuts in that sector relative to secondary and higher education seem illogical, given that all students now move through that crucial stage in their development.

The impact of Government cuts on students could not be clearer. We see larger classes, fewer available courses, and poorer mental health and careers support, and foreign language and STEM tuition has been decimated. That is the legacy of 10 years of this Government’s education policy, the consequences of which are declining social mobility for those in state education, and less hope and prosperity for children and young people.

Let us look at the Conservative Government’s rhetoric versus their record. The Government aspire to foster an outward-looking global Britain, yet have caused 50% of colleges to drop courses in foreign languages. The Government pledge to develop a skilled workforce that is internationally competitive post Brexit, yet 38% of colleges have dropped courses in science, technology, engineering and maths. The Government say they take children’s mental health and careers advice seriously, yet 78% of sixth forms have been forced to make significant cuts to those services. The Government speak of levelling up, yet inequality of funding between state and private schools means that 60% of private school students but just 18% in the state sector go to the UK’s most selective universities. Tory rhetoric rings hollow.

If the Government are going to turn off the tap of international talent with their harsh new immigration regime, they must put their money where their mouth is when it comes to education funding. We will need many multiples of the paltry increase the Government announced last September. Funding cuts in further education have undoubtedly led to greater inequality in society and hurt our hard-working schools and colleges. The Sixth Form Colleges Association has called for a reasonable increase in the rate to £4,800 per year for every student, and we should go further. In a post-Brexit economy, we will need to foster a new generation of home-grown scientists, engineers, technicians and skilled workers. That can happen only if the Government properly fund further education and give our children the chance to flourish.

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) for securing this much-needed debate.

Many of these things have been said before, but they need to be repeated until we get the answers we deserve. Education is fundamental to our country; it is the beating heart of our economy and necessary for a functioning democracy and, arguably, society itself. It is therefore beyond disappointing that sixth-form education is so woefully underfunded by this Government.

I am proud of Carmel College in my constituency. The absolute commitment of its staff to serve its pupils with a good education makes it an outstanding college, despite the lack of funding from central Government; as my hon. Friend so clearly articulated, sixth-form education is one of the most underfunded areas of our education system. Carmel’s funding issues are compounded by the fact that it is a Catholic college and therefore cannot access what extra funding—underwhelming though it is—is available to academy colleges.

As my hon. Friend clearly outlined, sixth-form colleges received £1,380 less per student in real terms in 2016-17 than in 2010-11. That is a 22% decline in funding while costs in other areas have increased year on year. That is a disgrace. We should be investing more in our children’s futures, not less.

That underfunding has a number of detrimental effects on our society and economy. Most colleges have reduced drastically the number of extracurricular activities they provide, including sport, music, drama, educational visits and even debating clubs, to name but a few. That has a negative effect on equality and social mobility in our nation, since such activities help to provide the well-rounded education that is essential in the modern world. Privately funded colleges such as Eton continue to offer those extremely beneficial activities, while the colleges used by the majority of the population can no longer afford to do so.

Class sizes are increasing. Sadly, that is not limited to sixth-form education. The number of A-levels that young people study has reduced from four to three. The situation is worsened by the lack of student support workers and teaching support in schools; as schools’ budgets are tightened, those immensely valuable roles are removed. Students with special educational needs get less of the support they need to be the best they can be, and young people in general are not provided with support at one of the most stressful times of their lives. We see all too often in the media how that lack of support leads to negative outcomes, which extend to young people taking their lives.

When we look beyond the classroom, we see sixth-form provision that does not provide for the long-term needs of our nation. STEM subjects have long been the backbone of our economy. It was through those subjects that the United Kingdom began the industrial revolution and we became a leader in so many fields, such as pharmaceuticals. Yet, because of current funding arrangements, sixth form colleges struggle to provide those subjects, as they are less popular. We risk a generational gap in the number of people learning those vital subjects.

Failing to invest in young people now is failing to invest in the future of the country. We will lose our edge in the global economy. Indeed, foreign languages are declining in sixth-form colleges. The Government has plans for a global post-Brexit Britain, in a landscape of growing economic giants such as China, Brazil, Japan, India and a resurgent Russia that will lead to more diversity in the language of business. Foreign languages are even more vital to British success following Brexit. I therefore call on the Government to raise the rate of funding for 16 to 18-year-olds to a minimum of £4,760. I also call on them to refrain from innovative accounting and to ensure that the rise is in addition to existing money, rather than shifting it around and rebranding it. Let us put a stop to smoke-and-mirrors funding. Education is vital to our country, community and society. Let us give young people the tools to revolutionise their futures and the country.

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) on securing this important debate.

For the past five years, I have been a governor at Luton Sixth Form College, which is the oldest in the country and, with more than 3,100 students, one of the largest. It is the college that I am proud to have attended. I have seen how vital further education provided by sixth-form colleges is to improving young people’s life chances and laying the foundations for a successful life. In deprived areas or places with limited employment opportunities, education is integral to setting young people up with the skill set to improve their living standards and their surrounding community.

I welcome the comments already made about ensuring that we retain a mix of A-levels, BTEC and T-levels to meet students’ varied demands; that applies equally to the vital opportunities that some students at Luton Sixth Form College have to take the extended project qualification, for example, enabling them to broaden their horizons in independent study. Those things are at risk as a consequence of underfunding.

The fact that funding has been squeezed leads to pressures on both teaching and support staff, as has been said. It is absolutely unacceptable that since 2010 the Government have frozen the rate for 16 and 17-year-olds and cut it for 18-year-olds. As to funding for support staff, student services have been slashed in 78% of cases, and in 81% there are larger class sizes. The Home Secretary yesterday said that the Government are levelling up our country’s skills, but in reality that could not be further from the truth.

VAT is another point that it is vital to cover. Under the area-based review a few years ago, Luton Sixth Form College was commended and it was agreed that it would stand alone as a sixth-form college. However, it has to pay £350,000 to £400,000 in VAT. It was told that to consider becoming an academy, to claim that back for students, it could not be a stand-alone academy but would have to go into a multi-academy trust. We felt that that would detract from our core education mission, which had already been praised. We need a joined-up approach to all that.

The effect of underfunding on state schools and colleges is clear. Only 18% of state-schooled A-level students went on to attend the most selective universities in 2016-17, compared with students from the independent system. Another consideration that particularly affects my town and constituency is that the population is growing. The Office for National Statistics forecasts a 29% rise in the number of 16 to 18-year-olds in Luton by 2028, which equates to nearly 1,500 more students. Luton’s sixth-form sector will struggle to accommodate that growth. Therefore, colleges such as Luton Sixth Form College, and other school sixth forms in my constituency, such as Stockwood Park Academy and Manshead Academy, will need additional funding to ensure adequate additional capacity for those students. The rate must be raised to £4,760 per student per annum, and yearly increases must be tied to inflation. The increase must be taken alongside the wider aim of achieving funding parity with secondary schools.

As colleagues have mentioned, the funding commitment constitutes only a one-year deal for 2020-21 for sixth forms and colleges, whereas schools in the five-to-16 sector received a three-year funding deal, with a further commitment to keeping pace with inflation. We want to hear from the Minister why five-to-16 education receives funding certainty but the 16-to-18 education sector does not. Properly funding sixth-form colleges creates a bridge between school education and higher education that facilitates effective social mobility. Ten years of underinvestment have damaged that bridge, but there is a clear way forward: raise the rate and set a sustainable further education funding model.

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) for securing the debate, which is timely given that the Budget is just a few weeks away. I sincerely hope that the Minister recognises that underfunding of post-16 education only undermines the Government’s skills strategy. It is a serious loss of opportunity for young people and perpetuates a cycle of low-paid, insecure work, which, as Professor Marmot has reminded us today, devastates life chances. The eye-watering cuts to post-16 provision cause students to drop down, if not drop out of education entirely, which adds to the already wide skills gap that exists in Bristol South. Importantly, that is devastating communities and having a terrible effect on social mobility.

There is a lot of agreement in the Chamber this afternoon about the Raise the Rate campaign and the cuts it has identified. That matters in Bristol South because many young people come from some of the most deprived wards in the country. Many care for other family members and some come from families where domestic violence is rife. Those young people are falling behind in GCSEs. Student support—so called extra-curricular activity or pastoral support—is not a “nice to have” for those families; it is how we nurture, protect and develop those young people before adulthood.

We have learned a lot in recent years about preparing children for reception class and for year 7. It is crucial to get things right at the next stage of the education journey, but we seem to have little regard for transition at 16. Often at that time parents are not as present in a young person’s life. Sometimes, as I find in my household, that is the choice of the young person. They need other people to help them through that important opportunity. Post-16 provision offers, as we have heard, new paths, and for those who have done well at GCSE the opportunity to take the next step along the road to university.

In the recent Queen’s Speech debate, I spoke about A-level provision in Bristol South, which is poor. We send the lowest number of people in the country to higher education. Research by the University of Bristol found many “gap wards” in Bristol South. The term refers to places where pupils are expected to continue to higher education based on GCSE results, but do not. They fall through the cracks—some dropping down and some dropping out altogether because of the difficulty of transitioning to college life. That is why this debate is so important.

Our main provider, City of Bristol College, has had an almost 40% cut in its funding in the past decade—no wonder it is struggling. It has done remarkable work, but the cuts are falling on student support and staff wages, so that it is now difficult to recruit the high-quality staff we need. Secondary school teachers, university lecturers and experienced electricians are all earning more than those college lecturers. Why do the Government seem so averse to levelling up post-16 education?

I went to an FE college, as I think did many of the Members present for the debate. So did the former Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid). His loss from that post is perhaps a problem for us, facing up to the Budget. I hope that the Minister is different. The Select Committee on Education has given some pointers about what needs to happen and what is wrong in the Department to explain why the colleges are not supported. A briefing by the Sixth Form Colleges Association points out that there is little point investing in pre-16 and higher education if the crucial middle sector is left out.

Of course, the Government could ask the experts. Like other Members, I am grateful to college principals—the principals of City of Bristol College and of St Brendan’s College, which is in a neighbouring constituency—for the advice and support they give, for informing me of what is going on, and for the work they do. They do remarkable work and need our support. If the Government are serious about levelling up, they need to start with equality of funding post-16. Now that some form of education or training is compulsory until the age of 18 in England, the Government must stop refusing to fund the extension of the pupil premium to support 16 to 18-year-olds. They need to level up and recognise that transition into and through post-16 is as crucial as starting primary and secondary school.

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It is a genuine pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. Unusually for me, I want to start not by talking immediately about Newham—I shall get to it later: I want to talk about further education cuts and how they can affect our towns.

In my role as a shadow social justice Minister, I had the privilege of visiting Leigh and my friend Jo Platt, who was its MP until December. I heard how unless young people could afford to travel for hours every day once they left school, all they were offered were courses in beauty and social care at the local college. It is a bit like when my mum left school and was offered a choice of two careers—dressmaking or hairdressing. That was almost 100 years ago. I am not decrying those professions, which are both incredibly valuable, and many young people have a real passion for them, but others have different ambitions, and rightly so—they should not have to travel for hours to access the learning or training they need to achieve their dreams. There cannot be any doubt that putting these barriers to different careers in front of young people will hold them, their communities and our economy back.

As we know, across the country some crucial subjects are simply not available anymore. We know that 50% of our schools have dropped modern foreign languages—global Britain? Almost 40% of schools and colleges have felt the need to drop STEM subjects, and almost 80% of schools have removed extracurricular activities and support services. More than 80% have to teach in larger classes. Does the Minister honestly believe that will not affect the quality of learning for those students? I do not. This is not global Britain; this is going backwards.

I see these struggles in the sixth-form colleges in West Ham, where there are fabulous teachers, bright young students and real, real ambition—there is no doubt about it—but those ambitions and aspirations alone cannot replace the money that has been lost. Newvic—Newham sixth-form college—is just down the road from where I live. The head, Mandeep Gill, the staff and the students are an inspiration. They work well together and they work so hard, but, as in so many sixth-form colleges around the country, it is having to make really difficult decisions.

I know how agonising the college’s decision was to stop teaching modern foreign languages and the arts classes because there simply was not the money. Mandeep has also been forced into galling decisions about which students’ services to cut. One of the toughest decisions was to cut back on some of the counselling and wellbeing staff, including very recently a mental health adviser. The college simply could not afford to keep that support, even though it recognises it is sorely needed. Many of its students will already have been let down by the waiting lists and absurdly high criteria to access child and adolescent mental health services in an area that has massive problems with youth crime and knife crime in particular.

Frankly, the failure to fund colleges properly is storing up problems for the future. It is not creating potential and it is not assisting the future of our society. The young people in my constituency are already suffering in so many ways after a decade of austerity. Child poverty is at 50% locally, youth services have all but disappeared and violent crime, as I said, is tragically a common feature of our lives. College counselling services provide the only adults that some of our young people can have access to and confide in. Those have been cut away as well.

I genuinely believe that the Minister can recognise just how dire the funding situation is. It is helping to create geographical inequalities, and it is selling our future short. If my young people cannot access mental health services and other services to get themselves out of gangs, what will that do for their futures and our futures? For heaven’s sake, raise the rate!

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It is a pleasure to contribute to the debate under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, and to follow the excellent speech from my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Ms Brown), who represents so many young people in Newham—one of the youngest parts of the country. I want my voice to join those across the Chamber. It is great to speak last in the debate, because everyone is saying the same thing. We all support the call for per head funding to go up from £4,000 to £4,760 per student and I am pleased that the campaign enjoys the support of the Education Committee, Ofsted inspectors and the Social Mobility Commission. It has always struck me as perverse that, while the apprenticeship levy cannot seem to be spent locally and is being given back to the Treasury because of that, FE has experienced a 50% cut. Surely that needs swapping over.

I am a strong supporter of the campaign and want to bring three new points to the debate. The first is capital spend, which is perhaps not included in the £4,760 figure. Many Members will have visited facilities for 16 to 19-year-olds in their constituencies. I was recently in Highgate Wood School in my constituency where PE is taught at GCSE and A-level to such a high specification, with excellent teaching staff, supportive parents and fantastic families, that the young people are inspired to take up careers in sport. Tragically, however, the bathrooms and changing facilities are Dickensian, with almost no running water, rusty taps and toilets that girls do not like to use at certain times of the month. All those basics really put people off choosing PE.

I beg for an improvement in the capital budget because everyone has the right to learn in a high-quality facility. It is not just sport; other Members have mentioned science and technology, where we are seriously behind in terms of the hardware we need. In languages, we need not just teaching staff but up-to-date learning facilities—computers and so on. We need to see an improvement in our music. Tragically, while we have wonderful universal provision in the Haringey music service up to about year 8, suddenly there is a cliff edge. This year, despite being one of the most populous boroughs in London, with a lot of young people, only about a dozen are learning music at A-level. That is a real pity. At university level, music is the subject with the lowest proportion of state school students achieving admission into university. We have seen some progress in Cambridge and Oxford on the basic subjects—philosophy, politics and economics, and so on—but not music, because music teachers have to be paid properly, and it can cost up to £40 an hour to learn the saxophone or a particular instrument. That cannot be left only to certain parts of society; it must be provided to every single child who is gifted musically.

We have had many debates about education maintenance allowance since I became an MP in 2015. I want the Minister to look at that as well. Is EMA coming back? We know what a crucial lifeline it was for students, and particularly those in households with two or three teenagers who needed help getting to college. My hon. Friend talked about Leigh, and asked how do students get to college if they have not got money to get on a bus? We also need education maintenance allowance for things such as books—the cost of textbooks has gone up. We also need it for food, so young people can buy lunch at college.

Please can we have a response from the Minister on education maintenance allowance, capital funding and, finally, pay rates? Some other Members mentioned that, but at a recent lobby here in the last Parliament, an English as a second or foreign language teacher said that if she worked in one setting, she would have been paid £33,000, but because she is so committed to social justice and serving her community, she wants to work in a college, where she is paid £26,000. Please can we look at parity of esteem for teachers and lecturers within the college sector and this issue a key driver of social mobility for all our communities?

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) on securing this important debate. The neglect of further education over many decades, but in particular since 2010, is a critical issue that is not given enough attention in this place, so I thank Members on all sides who have made excellent contributions to the debate.

As some said during the debate, if global Britain is to have any meaning at all, we cannot keep underfunding further education. The latest figures available show that OECD countries spend, on average, 8% more on vocational programmes than academic ones, while the UK spends 11% less. FE funding has been cut to the bone, with spending this year similar in real terms to levels in 1991, nearly 30 years ago. We are falling behind, which damages young people’s futures and our economy in a way that affects every one of us.

The DFE’s own report into the FE sector, which was published this month, lays bare the scale of the problem. It says that courses and apprenticeships continue to be reduced or lost, class sizes and teachers’ workloads are increasing, while jobs are being cut and wages held down in a way that makes it difficult to retain staff or recruit new staff. One sixth-form college leader put it like this:

“If we do not receive additional funding in real terms…we will fail financially.”

They went on:

“Our aim is for this college not to be in the half of SFCs that fail first in the hope that, once half have gone…something will have to be done.”

How irresponsible that the Government have reduced our sixth-form colleges to this appalling state.

FE colleges complain that severe underfunding means much of what they can offer has become—in their own words—

“out of date and not relevant to what is current in the workplace.”

I ask the Minister, can we allow our FE colleges to fall so far behind that they are unable to equip their students for the world of work?

I regularly speak to leaders at Croydon College, which many of my younger constituents attend. They are distraught at how self-defeating and short term the Government’s approach to FE has been. Many young people growing up in places like Croydon fail to achieve their full potential at school, often because of challenging circumstances in the home that hold them back. Later on, they want to return to education and gain the basic qualifications they missed out on, in subjects such as English and maths, so they can get a better job, make themselves more employable and make a bigger contribution to society. It is inexplicable that this Government have chosen to close down these opportunities and leave young people to fail, when a little more investment at this crucial stage would pay dividends, not just to the young person affected, but to the public purse as they get jobs, earn more and pay taxes.

We should pay tribute to the Education Select Committee for its recent report into FE. The Committee was unable to discern overarching strategic objectives or funding prioritisation behind the Government’s policy announcements. It could not find evidence that the Government’s funding decisions were aligned with real-world costs. Instead of the blinkered short-termism that currently defines the Government’s approach to spending, the Committee called for a 10-year plan for education funding, so schools and colleges can plan strategically in the future. I hope the Minister will abandon the failure that has characterised this Government’s approach to further education and embrace a fresh approach that will equip the UK to compete globally.

Will the Minister confirm that per-pupil funding will rise, in real terms, every year of this Parliament? Will adult education and apprenticeship spending be maintained in real terms, in addition to the announced spending increase on education for 16 to 18-year-olds? When does she expect to raise the rate for funding education for 16, 17 and 18-year-olds to the £4,760 a year that the Sixth Form Colleges Association says is required and that Members on all sides have called for? When will she level up funding for 16 to 18-year-olds with funding for those under-16, and abolish the VAT on FE learning?

The high-skills economy that Britain needs to compete globally must draw on all routes through education, whether that is academic, technical or vocational. By failing to recognise and properly fund education, this Government are letting down Britain’s young people, and failing to equip Britain to succeed in an increasingly competitive world. After a decade of failure, I hope today’s debate will mark a turning point. It is time to raise the rate.

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I congratulate the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) on securing this important debate. It is fantastic to see so many colleagues from across the House here today. The subject is of great interest to a number of our constituents up and down the country, so I welcome the debate, and I have listened to Members’ input.

Our excellent schools and colleges deliver high-quality provision for 16 to 19-year-olds, often alongside vital lifelong learning for adults, providing opportunities to retrain. Employers also play a vital role in supporting this country’s future, by preparing young people and adults to meet the challenges of the changing workplace. I pay tribute to the colleges and schools that have been mentioned throughout the debate.

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Does the Minister accept that there is a co-ordinating role that should be played by local government in directing, and helping to bring together, the local picture around skills?

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There is indeed, but there is also a role for many different bodies and organisations to bring that picture together. Our colleges and schools should be at the heart of our local communities.

The Government are committed to improving the country’s education system, and recognise the importance of equality of funding, particularly for sixth forms—I myself am the product of a sixth-form college. We have increased funding for education for 16 to 19-year-olds by £400 million for 2020-21—a 7% increase in overall funding, and the biggest injection of new money in a single year since 2010. While I have heard the challenges referenced today, it is important to note that funding has increased faster for 16 to 19-year-olds than for schooling for 5 to 16-year-olds. That will allow us to raise the base rate of funding for all types of institutions, from £4,000 at present to £4,188 for the next academic year. I reiterate that I have heard the calls made today.

As part of the extra funding, the Government have committed to providing £120 million for more expensive and high-value subjects, along with £35 million to support students on level 3 courses who did not achieve a grade 4 in GCSE maths and/or English. The additional funding will ensure that we are able to continue building the skills that our country needs, and to invest in the next generation of young people.

We are also introducing T-levels. I noted the comment by the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown that we have had several debates on the subject, but the issue was raised by the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel). T-levels will be offered by a number of colleges that were spoken about today. We will be spending an additional £500 million a year on these new programmes, once they are fully rolled out.

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On the subject of T-levels, one issue is creating a pathway for students who have not obtained the grades necessary at key stage 4 to go straight into the T-level. Obviously, the Government are interested in opening up that pathway for those students, many of whom could massively benefit in terms of social mobility by being able to move on to T-levels. Can she say what the Government are doing to clarify the pathway for those students?

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There will be a one-year transition course designed to target those students and make sure they are ready for T-levels. A T-level will not be right for every student, but it will provide an excellent pathway for further education, higher education, apprenticeships or going straight into the job market. We want as many people as possible to take T-levels, if those are suited to them.

To ensure that the institutions delivering T-levels have the up-to-date technical facilities and equipment required, we are also injecting capital funding. Earlier this month we announced up to £95 million for providers offering T-levels from 2021.

Capital funding was mentioned many times today. It is not just in relation to T-levels that we are increasing capital funding. We need to ensure local colleges are excellent places to learn, so we will invest £1.8 billion over five years to upgrade the FE estate. That was mentioned by the hon. Members for Brighton, Kemptown and for Croydon North (Steve Reed) among others. Sixth-form colleges and academies for 16 to 19-year-olds currently receive annual devolved capital allocations. They also either receive the school condition allocation or can bid for the condition improvement fund for larger projects. However, I have heard the calls today for a specific capital expansion fund, which came from my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) and the hon. Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue), to mention but two. A full multi-year spending review is expected to be conducted in 2020, and that includes capital budgets for 2020-21.

The FE workforce is an important issue, because we need to secure the best outcomes for our students, and I always believe that that is reliant on the teachers who teach them. We need to give providers the ability to recruit, develop and retain the best staff. That is why we have invested more than £140 million in FE teachers and leaders since 2013-14. In the two years to March 2020, we will have invested up to £20 million to support providers as they prepare for the introduction of T-levels.

The hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown and others, including the hon. Member for Croydon North, raised the issue of VAT. I recognise that that is a concern. As has been noted, sixth-form colleges can convert to 16-to-19 academies, which can resolve the issue, but we do keep it under review and will continue to monitor it.

Earlier this month, we announced a £24 million package for 2020-21 to strengthen the FE workforce. That includes a professional development offer for teachers delivering T-levels and funding to attract the best and most talented individuals, including industry professionals, into FE teaching.

The issue of mental health was raised by a number of hon. Members and, in particular, the hon. Members for Brighton, Kemptown and for West Ham (Ms Brown). I agree that we need to do more on that. It is a vital issue in our era. We have already provided more than £500 million to support disadvantaged students, but I can assure hon. Members here today that I will raise the topic with, and relay the concerns and comments to, the newly appointed Minister responsible for apprenticeships and skills—the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan). My hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford), who unfortunately has had to leave the Chamber, mentioned the specific issue of a college closure in his constituency. Again, I will relay that issue to the Minister responsible for apprenticeships and skills and ensure that he has a meeting.

The issue of teacher pay came up. That is an issue when we are considering investment in our workforce and retention. It is not as simple as just ensuring that the teacher pay grant is in fact applied to colleges, because they are independent, so it is not necessarily appropriate, but we are concerned about this topic, and I know that the newly appointed Minister will be looking at it.

The hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer) brought up the issue of STEM and the fact that we need to be investing heavily in this sector to fill the skills gap. That is why, in 2020-21, we have made an additional £120 million available for the more expensive and high-value STEM subjects.

The investment that we are making in post-16 education will ensure that we can continue to develop a world-class education system to rival the systems of other countries, so that we have the highly skilled and productive workforce that we need for the future. The range and cost of the different programmes, the age and characteristics of students, and the types of institution that we fund all vary considerably. It is right that the amount of funding that different providers receive varies to reflect that.

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The Minister is extremely generous in giving way. Will she just clarify the issue about education maintenance allowance?

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I will. Although we have moved away from that particular programme, the most vulnerable young people, in defined groups, do have access to up to £1,200 a year to support their participation costs, and I am happy to meet the hon. Member to discuss that in further detail.

It is a strength of our funding system that we are able to provide the funding for students and institutions when and where it is needed, to meet such a wide range of different circumstances and needs. The Government are doing much to level up funding for post-16 education, but I know that there is concern that it does not go far enough. The Raise the Rate campaign, especially in relation to sixth-form colleges, has done an excellent job in drawing attention to the financial pressures that some providers are experiencing. Sixth-form and wider post-16 education is incredibly important and something that we will reflect on in our input into the spending review.

A number of hon. Members mentioned that the settlement was only for one year. I point out that most areas of Government achieved only a one-year settlement and that this year’s spending review offers many more opportunities.

I finish by thanking again the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown and all the hon. Members who participated in this extremely important debate.

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I thank the Minister, who has given a very good holding reply to most of the points. It was very skilfully done—to some extent. I will summarise by saying that there are lots of little pots around that colleges can probably bid for here and there, but there is not yet a strategic view of how we will increase the money going into this sector and how we will equalise the funding between the different providers.

There is no real vision on how we will sort out the VAT problem, apart from by wanting to fiddle about with governance issues. Surely it would be easier and more cost-effective to rule these institutions out of VAT, rather than requiring them to go through the cost of converting, which is not necessarily appropriate in all cases. We have not really been offered an answer to the questions there. I hope that in the spending review the Minister will go back to the Department and there will be some more movement on these things. We were not expecting a pronouncement today.

We heard from many hon. Members. We heard about the work that the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) continues to do with the APPG. The hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) mentioned the need for long-term funding. My hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue) talked about the need to catch up because of the cuts that have happened. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma) talked about needing to put students first and was worried about the larger class sizes. My hon. Friend the Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer) talked about the college in her constituency and the danger to STEM subjects. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins), who serves on a board of governors and is a graduate of that sixth-form college herself, also talked about the need for long-term funding—over a number of years.

We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) about how young people are falling through the gaps because we do not have the resources to support young people, when they are moving on, between institutions. My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Ms Brown) talked about how the need to travel cuts people off from opportunities in which they might excel, but also about the mental health burden that has been put on our young people. There have not only been cuts to school counselling services; those have been exacerbated by the wider cuts that we have seen in youth services and elsewhere. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) of course pushed again on capital grants and on EMA for young people.

I come from a family of people who have worked in sixth-form colleges. My mother worked all her life as a sixth-form college teacher—first at Taunton’s in Southampton, then at Bexhill sixth-form college, then at Park sixth-form college and then at Lewes sixth-form centre—before retiring. My sister has just gone to start teaching A-levels in Essex and has worked at a number of sixth forms herself. I come from a family who care passionately about sixth forms, and I went to a sixth-form centre myself. I hope we can ensure that this vital pathway through education is properly resourced and funded, as it deserves to be.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered equality of funding for post-16 education.

Sitting suspended.