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AoC Chief Executive Launches Funding Lobbying Campaign To Put Words Into Action

The Association of Colleges has launched a campaign to address the funding gap between school sixth forms and local sixth forms/general further education colleges, an issue AoC Chief Executive John Brennan called “incontrovertible”. The issue at stake is the 10% less per student that colleges receive compared to schools providing the same courses. According to the AoC, if this funding gap were to close, the average college would gain £500,000 per year in additional funding. “It’s unfair and wrong to fund colleges differently to other schools giving the same services,” said Brennan.

The problem- and why the campaign was launched- is that although current Government ministers accept that there is a funding gap between colleges and schools, there has been little initiative to remedy the situation. An issue close to the heart of many in the further education sector, the AoC plans to back up the campaign by “trying to put pressure on ministers,” says Brennan. “We would like to deal with this issue and move on to address more serious issues,” he added.

Also backing the campaign is the Secondary Heads Association. Commenting at yesterday’s national press conference, SHA General Secretary John Dunford underscored the existence of the school/college divide. “It is quite wrong that when we are entering the 14-19 era that there is a funding gap,” he said and suggested an activity-led funding formula as a possible solution.

There are currently 701,000 16-18 year olds studying in local colleges, compared to only 345,000 in schools, numbers that show the important work that Further Education colleges do. Also backing the campaign are Dorothy Jones from Southwark College and Marilyn Hawkins from Barnet College, who are both feeling the heat from overstretched budgets and building capacities. “We need more funding to address mobility issues,” said Southwark Principal Dorothy Jones. Offering her college’s perspective on the problems created by the funding gap, Barnet College Principal Marilyn Hawkins said, “We are in the top 17% of colleges in the country, but lose lecturers each year to the schools sector.”

According to Brennan, the Learning and Skills Council is also committed to closing the funding gap, but “is constrained” by government demands. He emphasized that the AoC was working in continual dialogue with both the LSC and the government, but said that he believed that Mike Tomlinson’s recommendations would fail unless there was success in gaining the right type of funding. Dunford’s suggestion of an Activity Led Funding Formula solution is an interesting possibility. This solution begins by looking at real costs and builds a formula from the bottom up. The government sets a standard and the funding is then set at a level needed to achieve it.

This is a hot button issue that highlights not only the discrepancy between schools and colleges, but also the underlying perception of the FE sector. If students are not given the chance of a level playing field, how can they be expected to end with the same results? Between 15-20% of colleges in England and Wales are failing financially and have placed in what the LSC calls the “financially weak” Category C, a fact that is quite telling. It is time for the Government to offer real solutions to this problem so that all students have the same opportunities.

LeNise Brothers and Zsofia Kadar

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