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.