College Funding Debate

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College Funding

Mr William Wragg Excerpts
Monday 21st January 2019

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Sir Charles Walker Portrait Mr Charles Walker (in the Chair) - Hansard

Order. If everybody keeps to six minutes, we should get there. I call Mr Wragg.

Mr William Wragg Portrait Mr William Wragg (Hazel Grove) (Con) - Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 5:39 p.m.

Thank you very much indeed, Mr Walker. As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) on leading the debate, in which I am pleased to speak. I endorse the sentiments of the petition and put on record my support for the “Raise the Rate” campaign.

For a number of years, I have pressed the cause of increasing the schools funding budget—a topic I have often raised. It is important to remember equality for all students, both pre and post-16, for which the petition rightly calls. We need to look at ways to increase college funding to sustainable levels to give parity. The bottom line is that the sixth form and college sector needs more money. That will give all students a fair chance, give college staff fair pay and provide the high quality skills that the country needs.

This issue attracts significant interest among my constituents, of whom 130 have signed the petition. I have recently had meetings with Danny Pearson, the principal of Aquinas sixth-form college, which serves my constituency so well. I also know that the principals, teachers and students at other local colleges—Cheadle College, Marple Sixth Form College and Stockport College—are keen that urgent action be taken. They will be following the outcome of this debate closely.

Sixth-form funding was made subject to restrictions in 2011 and 2013. The national funding rate for 16 and 17-year-olds, which is by far the biggest component of the 16 to 18 funding formula, has remained frozen each year since 2013-14. As well as the funding disparity between pre-16 and 16 to 18 education, colleges face particular disadvantages in comparison with schools, which have their VAT costs refunded and receive the teachers’ pay grant. All sixth-form providers are being asked to do more by the Government, from implementing the Prevent strategy to meeting the Gatsby career benchmarks, but sadly those requirements are rarely accompanied by additional funding.

Taken in the round, the impact on colleges’ ability to deliver the quality of education that students deserve is significant. I fear that the situation is affecting the Government’s ability to achieve their ambitions for the economy and social mobility. Worryingly, it is also narrowing the curriculum: the funding impact survey carried out by Raise the Rate’s partners showed that 50% of schools and colleges have dropped courses in modern foreign languages, 34% have dropped STEM courses and 67% have reduced student support services or extracurricular activities, with limitations to mental health support, employability skills and careers advice.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab) Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 5:51 p.m.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) on introducing the debate. As well as Coventry College, we have a special needs college in Coventry that does excellent work but is struggling financially and in its resources. In combination, they have faced cuts of up to about 27%. Does the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg) agree that that is a major factor affecting the quality of apprenticeships? Companies such as Jaguar Land Rover in the west midlands industrial base want to expand, but for that to happen, they need the skills.

Mr William Wragg Portrait Mr Wragg - Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 5:53 p.m.

I certainly agree. I am pleased to have afforded the hon. Gentleman the opportunity to place on the record the work of colleges in Coventry.

It is a timely coincidence that the Education Committee, of which I am a member and which my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) always chairs most ably, is conducting an inquiry into school and college funding and has taken evidence from the post-16 sector. When we asked what was at the top of their wish list, witnesses agreed that the first priority is higher core funding, the second is separate funding for increases to teachers’ pay awards and pensions, as occurs in schools, and the third is increased funding for the capital expansion of colleges.

We also heard that the college sector would much rather have a boost to core funding than a continued run of new initiatives. Some witnesses spoke of an initiative mania and suggested that narrowly targeted uplifts can do more harm than good, because they displace the real issue. For instance, plans to invest in technical education, although welcome, will do very little for the vast majority of sixth-form students who study an A-level or applied general course. I am afraid that more money for T-levels is not, in itself, the solution to sixth form and college funding.

To ensure that schools and colleges can continue to deliver high quality, internationally competitive education, the “Raise the Rate” campaign is calling for the national funding rate for 16 to 18-year-olds to be raised by £760 per student at the forthcoming spending review and in line with inflation each year thereafter, as the hon. Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue) mentioned. Recent research has found that that is the minimum additional funding required to increase student support services to the required level, including improving students’ mental and physical health. It is needed to protect subjects that are at risk of being dropped, such as modern foreign languages. It will increase non-qualification time and extracurricular activities, work experience and university visits, which are vital for preparing students for the world of work or higher education and are key drivers of social mobility. Furthermore, it is important that the rate rise comes in addition to—not instead of—the funding that may be required by schools and colleges to meet new costs, such as increased employer contributions to the teachers’ pensions scheme.

I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister is a big supporter of the further education sector and wants the very best for pupils. We have seen that support take different forms; I am sure her winding-up speech will remind us about the new per pupil premium funding for level 3 maths, the £40 million of funding to establish centres for excellence in maths, and the investment in T-levels. However, I encourage her to go beyond those initiatives and ask the Chancellor for the desperately needed raise in the rate of core sixth-form funding. I can think of no better Minister to negotiate on behalf of the college sector, and I wish her well in the spending review.

Sir Charles Walker Portrait Mr Charles Walker (in the Chair) - Hansard

I call Wera Hobhouse. I am still quite keen on the six-minute limit.