Sharp decline in funding for sixth form and colleges

A new report from the Education Policy Institute (EPI) has examined the financial health of sixth forms and colleges in England.

Between 2010/11 and 2018/19, funding per student in school sixth forms, sixth form colleges, and further education (FE) colleges declined by 16 per cent, from £5,900 to £4,960. This is twice the rate that the overall schools budget fell by between 2009/10 and 2017/18 (8 per cent).

Funding in school sixth forms declined by 26 per cent per full time student from 2010/11 to 2018/19. For sixth form colleges and FE colleges, funding declined by 18 per cent per full time student. Within this, funding for sixth form colleges fell faster than in FE colleges.

The report finds that 16-19 education has been the biggest real terms loser of any phase of education since 2010/11, but it has also suffered from a long run squeeze in funding: 30 years ago, 16-19 funding was far higher (almost 1.5 times) than secondary school funding, but is now lower.

The financial health of 16-19 providers has significantly deteriorated since 2010/11: the proportion of those with in-year deficits has increased across all institutions, with a particularly large rise seen in sixth form colleges: a five-fold increase of 7 to 36 per cent from 2010/2011 to 2016/17.     

An increasing number of local authority schools with sixth forms are in financial difficulty – the proportion with cumulative deficits has risen significantly from 12 per cent of schools in 2010/11 to 22 per cent in 2017/18. In stark contrast, schools without sixth forms have only seen rises of 6 per cent to 9 per cent.

The report has also found that teacher pay has fallen across 16-19 institutions, but has declined particularly in further education colleges – by 8 per cent from 2010/11 to 2016/17 (from £33,600 to £31,000).

This means that teacher wages in FE colleges are now around 17 per cent lower than for teachers in secondary schools. This may have implications for the quality of provision, and may adversely affect the most disadvantaged young people, given FE colleges admit a disproportionate number of students from such backgrounds.

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