In few areas is the disparity in investment in our children’s future highlighted more clearly than in the under-funding of colleges in our education system.
Despite the fact that colleges educate the majority of 16 to 18-year-olds – there are 712,000 studying in colleges compared with 424,000 in schools – for too long the vital work they do has been overlooked and underfunded.
- Over the past ten years, college funding has fallen by around 30%.
- FE is the only part of the education budget to have had year-on-year cuts since 2010.
- Courses have been closed, student support has been cut, and teaching provision has reduced.
- An average FE teacher’s pay is £7k lower than a school teacher’s pay and was recently exacerbated by the Government underpinning a 3% cost of living award for schools.
This is a huge blow when recruiting and retaining teachers is already exceptionally difficult. Is it any wonder that many FE teachers feel they are regarded as second class and that recruitment in one of the most important areas for our economy now and in the future is so difficult?
There is a quiet crisis taking place in further education, all but ignored by the leading lights in the Government and all but unheard in the media. Since 2010, around 24,000 teachers have left the further education sector – around a third of the total teaching workforce. This is an almost unprecedented loss of talent and experience that would represent a grievous blow to any business, in any sector in the country. That it is happening in a sector, whose success the country on depends for its future, should shame the Tories.
It is symptomatic of a sector which has been chronically undervalued by the Government and a failure to invest in our future.
Ministers may argue that recruitment and retention is complex; pray to various factors, economic and social, out of their control. But this is a nonsense. At its root, recruitment and retention is about whether FE is attractive to new recruits and whether experienced teachers and lecturers feel valued. On both counts, the Government’s prolonged attack on pay has had a profound effect on it’s affordability as a profession and the morale of existing staff.
How could it not have done, when the impact on pay-packets has been so eye-watering? Pay has fallen on average by 25% with a near £2,500 pay cut in cash terms for those at the bottom point and over £9,000 for those at the top.
They are now voting with their feet by the leaving the sector altogether. The planned strike action for the end of this month is another consequence. Lecturers and college staff are sick and tired of being undervalued and they are absolutely right to take industrial action over what is now a crisis that could fundamentally undermine the FE sector.
Sheffield College hosts excellent facilities and apprenticeships in just these sectors and have seen significant growth in the delivery of Higher Apprentices in Engineering and Manufacturing but they really struggle to recruit staff. They have run 4 recruitment campaigns and continue to struggle to recruit.
This applies equally to maths teachers, which are already extraordinarily hard to recruit but colleges face an even greater challenge than schools do. At Sheffield College, they are supporting over 1300 students each year to resit their GCSE; surely such students need and deserve a properly staffed and resourced department to support them and ensure that they can move forward?
So the question must be why does the Government value our colleges and therefore the students who attend them so little?
Spending per student in FE and sixth-form colleges is now about 8 per cent lower than spending per pupil in secondary school, while at the start of the 1990s, it was 50 per cent higher than in schools.
The Governmnet’s own research shows that for every public pound invested in Level 3 apprenticeships we receive a return of £28 to the UK economy.
Colleges are the perfect vehicle through which the government can achieve its policy objectives and yes, they have promised a significant cash boost to cover T Levels but this will only just fill the funding gap created by swingeing cuts since 2010 as the IFS has shown and places a requirement on colleges to support a 50% increase in learning hours.
By failing to invest in colleges and FE not only are we depriving the students that wish to study there of their rightful future, but the economy and our sectors of the jobs they need.