From education to employment

How cuts will damage learning experiences for college students

I am particularly concerned about the impact these latest cuts will have upon colleges’ ability to continue to deliver outstanding learning experiences for our students.

These latest cuts targeted at 18 year olds, many of whom have been previously failed by the compulsory education system and poor career guidance, are squeezing colleges’ 16-18 budgets inclemently.

71% of our 16-18 year olds arrive at BDC without Grades A*-C in GCSE Maths and English, the majority of whom received little or no careers guidance at school. They all have the same single aspiration – to achieve the necessary skills for the world of work.

These young people work hard to improve their Maths and English grades at college, whilst learning by doing, across our technical and vocational programmes. They are successful and progress to either apprenticeships or advanced level programmes.

65% of our 18 year old students study on Advanced Level Technician programmes such as Forensic Science Laboratory Technicians; Software, Civil and Design Engineers; Master Plumbers & Electricians; ICT Technicians; trainee midwives; and nurses etc – exactly the type of skill sets that UK and London employers, and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEP), are crying out for.

Our analysis tells us that these cuts will impact over 700+ 18-year-old students at the College, of whom 94% are from the index of deprivation classified postcodes. Moreover, the cuts will impact on those young people who had lower attainment at age 16 and therefore need three years to complete their training at Level 3, as well as those who had been pigeon-holed into an A Level programme in sixth form, only to find that it cannot lead to work.

I know of many young people who had simply not understood the alternative study options available to them at age 16: the A Level programmes they followed did not give them the technical, employability and industry-standard skills that an equivalent level vocational course offers. At age 17 or 18 these young people then embark on the high quality advanced technical training that colleges provide, with a clear line of sight to work and economic independence.

Giving students the highest quality learning experience is always at the centre of our work and, whilst this will always continue, there is little or no capacity in our budgets to absorb yet another disproportionate and significant budget reduction, whilst at the same time continuing to deliver the training that is so clearly linked to the UK’s economic prosperity.
As we are all too aware, funding for 16-18 year olds currently stands at 22% less than for 11-15 year olds before these latest reductions in funding are applied. The Government has to recognise that by ring-fencing the budget for school children aged 5 – 15 year olds in the December Spending Review, and targeting the reductions in funding on 18 year olds, their very own policies targeted at reducing youth unemployment (21% currently in London) and raising the participation age, will be seriously undermined.

This week, I have welcomed the opportunity to shine a spotlight on this issue through BBC London TV and radio stations, and through lobbying MPs, thanks to the leadership of the Association of Colleges and London Councils. We must come together to entreat the Minister to show brave leadership. To revisit his “plan”. To make the necessary savings and, if it has to come from the 16-18 budget, to diminish the disproportionately negative impact of the current proposals by spreading the reduction across 16-18 funding overall.

Cathy Walsh is principal and chief executive of Barking & Dagenham College


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