The Department for Education’s spending on adult education, post-16 education, further education and colleges underwent scrutiny this week in a parliamentary ‘estimates day debate’. Estimates day debates are a chance for Members to debate and agree the Government’s spending plans on particular subject areas. Members ‘bid’ for subjects in their chosen area to be discussed, and this week Robin Walker’s successful bid to discuss the education spending came before the House of Commons.
During the debate Robin referred to education providers in his constituency, as well as the work of the Education Select Committee which he chairs when calling for a widespread review of spending on Further Education and post-16 education, and for a pause to the process of defunding advanced general qualifications until the T-level route has been more firmly proven. T-levels are technical qualifications, usually studied after completion of GCSEs. The government has already started axing some of the more established technical training routes such as BTECs in favour of T-levels. The select committee urged the government to reconsider this, at least until the T-level qualification has been better established.
At the start of the debate Robin welcomed an increase in overall funding for Education, that “the overall estimate for the Department for Education has increased, and that we are debating estimates today that see the total amount, across resource and capital, rise from £100 billion to £110 billion. We [The Government] are spending substantial amounts of money on education.”
However, while education as a whole is receiving a significant boost to funding, FE funding continues to face a very real squeeze. The Institute for Fiscal Studies reported that FE has faced a prolonged period of restricted funding, falling in real terms, which has been challenging for the sector in the face of a rapid and welcome growth in early years investment. This restricted funding has led to sixth form per pupil funding levels being only 11% to 12% higher than primary school levels despite much higher provision requirements.
While the Government chose not to take forward the proposals in the Education Select Committee’s report Robin continued to press them and the Minister, Robert Halfon MP, to look again at the proposals. Speaking in the chamber he expressed that “I am disappointed that he could not go further on a funding review or on the moratorium on defunding advanced general qualifications, and I challenge him to make the case for both with the Treasury on the back of this debate.”
Continuing in his role as Chair of the Education Select Committee, Robin will look forward to see what more can be done to expand the FE provisions for 16-19 year olds in the UK as we prepare them for their next step on this ladder of opportunity.
You can read Robin’s full speech here