Can Further Education survive funding cuts?

College principals say they are having to make difficult decisions to ensure that Further Education (FE) colleges survive due to central government budget cuts.

In July 2015, the government announced the Review of Post-16 Education and Training (known as Area Reviews). This is intended to "achieve clear, high quality professional and technical routes to employment, alongside academic routes" and "better responsiveness to loval employer need and economic priorities". 

The government acknowledges that this will mean fewer, larger providers. These reviews are currently taking place across England's 39 colleges. Cost saving measures are understood to be on the agenda, but no recommended changes have yet been announced.  

Lack of job security 

For those who are working in the FE sector, it has become incredibly difficult to find a secure job. In comparison to those who want to go into primary or secondary school teaching, temporary and part-time vacancies seem to be more common than full-time vacancies. This is only likely to get worse if colleges begin to merge.

Janet Clark, Education Policy Advisor for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), says that: “more stability is needed in this sector due to the amount of redundancies and closures that are taking place in this sector at the moment.”

The Area Review Steering Committes are chaired by representatives from local businesses, who analyse what gaps there are in skills provision in the labour market. 

They also make sure there are no overlaps on curriculum areas within a region, such as two colleges offering tourism. Steering Committees are therefore recommending mergers in local areas, and sixth form colleges are being provided with the option to become academies to remove them from the government purse, or merge with existing colleges.   

The Sixth Form Colleges’ Association (SFCA) is concerned that the government intends to expand the number of school and academy sixth forms even though sixth form colleges outperform schools and academies.

Clark says: "There will be a lot of mergers and redundancies. Students may need to catch three buses to get to college and colleges that are in a healthy financial state could be foreced to take on colleges that are not financially well off."

With more colleges due to close, Clark suggests that - because of government policy - “the government has been protecting apprenticeships at the expense of other types of vocational education.”

Long-term effects

With this culture of cuts and consolidation, some experts are predicting that FE provision might not survive beyond 2020. The Association of Colleges has warned that as many as 190,000 course places could be lost in 2015/16 alone. This will also encompass English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and is likely to affect the supply of students to the Higher Education sector. 

“A shortage of money means that college principals can no longer be innovative and resilient in the face of further cuts,” says Clark. 

Alison Williams agrees, and goes further to say the changes to FE now would have an ever-lasting impact on the economy: “Further cuts could even decimate the economic growth the Government is hoping to achieve because students will not be able to learn the skills to do the jobs needed to boost economic growth.” 

 

About the writer

Matthew Snape is a freelance journalist and PR specialist. He has a diverse background of experience that involves banking, retail, charity work, politics, education and writing. In regards to his background in education, he has worked as a play worker, teaching assistant, trainee teacher and project worker for a special needs charity.